One of the most pivotal moments in the story of the Exodus from Egypt is the splitting of the Red Sea. In the Hallel we recite on Pesach (and other Jewish Holidays) we describe the event by saying (Tehilim 114:3)
הַיָּם רָאָה וַיָּנֹס
The sea saw it and split.
The Midrash (Shochar Tov, 114:3 & מדרש תהלים (בובר) מזמור קיד) wants to know מה ראה? What did the sea “see” that made it split?
Answers the Midrash:
ראה ארונו של יוסף יורד לים
The water saw the casket of Yosef entering the sea. Those same bones of Yosef that Moshe personally collected and brought with Bnei Yisroel as the nation left Egypt. Moshe’s hard work paid off because it was those bones that made the sea split.
What was it about Yosef that carried these special powers? Why were these bones the cause of the sea splitting? Continues the Midrash:
אמר הקב"ה ינוס הים מפני הנס מן העבירה,
G-d said the Yam Suf is going to flee because of Yosef who fled from the sin. This sin refers back to the story where Yosef was seduced by the wife of Potiphar. While Yosef was a slave in Egypt, one day no one was home, and his master’s wife made “advances” towards him. In the heat of the moment, Yosef was able to overcome his desires (Bereshit 39:12) and run out of the house.
We know the strength of human passion. We know how strong our desires are. How is it possible that Yosef, a teenage boy, living alone in a strange land was able to stand up against the constant advances of this beautiful woman? It seems very unlikely!
The Midrash provides a powerful answer (Berieshit 39):
באותה שעה באתה דיוקנו של אביו ונראתה לו בחלון
Yosef saw the image of his father, Yaakov, in the window. At this critical juncture in his life, it is the image of his father that keeps Yoseph’s life headed in the right direction. That image contained the values that Yaakov taught him. That image ultimately asks him difficult questions. Do you want to throw away your legacy? Do you now understand what’s being passed down to you? What’s being entrusted to you? The role you play in the continuity of your people? It was that powerful image and the questions that came along with it that guided Yosef to make the right decision.
On the 8th day of Pesach we recite Yizkor. For those who have lost relatives and recite Yizkor on their behalf, it is an opportunity to see a reflection of an ancestor such as a father or mother. As we reflect on the image of our parents (and other loved ones) it is an important time to ask how are the values of our parents and loved ones still playing a role in our lives. Are the lesson and values they taught us still guiding our decisions today? It is a time to recommit ourselves and answer these questions positively. This will bring the ultimate merit to our loved one.
The Jewish Federations of North America Rabbinic Cabinet
Cabinet Chair: Les Bronstein
Vice Chair: Frederick Klein
Vice Chair: Larry Kotok
Vice Chair: Steven Lindemann
Vice Chair: Fredi Cooper
Vice Chair: Tina Grimberg
Vice Chair: Jonathan Berkun
Vice Chair: Jack Luxemberg
President: Stuart Weinblatt
Honorary President: Matthew Simon
Director of the Rabbinic Cabinet: Gerald I. Weider
The opinions expressed in Mekor Chaim articles are solely of the author and do not reflect any official position of Jewish Federations of North America or the Rabbinic Cabinet