Torah for the Times

Friday,January 25- 14 Shevat , 5773

Torah Reading: Beshalach (Exodus 13:17 - 17:16)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:47 PM

Shabbat ends: 5:50 PM

Two Right Hands

The Mother of All Miracles

The miracle that stands out among all miracles is arguably the splitting of the Red Sea, discussed in this week’s parshah. Proof of this is that whenever the Talmud seeks to describe something that is extremely “difficult” for G‑d it refers to this miracle. The most familiar example of this comparison is the statement in the Talmud (Sotah 2a) that for G‑d to match a couple together in marriage is “as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea.”

Obviously, no miracle is difficult for G‑d. Chassidic thought explains that the meaning of difficulty in this context means that the miracle involved G‑d’s unconventional powers. Whereas nature is also G‑d’s power and handiwork, it is His power as it is cloaked in natural “garments.” It is said to come from the Divine name Elokim, which has the numerical value of the word hateva, which means nature. This is the G‑dly force that is contracted and screened so that its true intensity and luminescence is obscured and it appears as if it is limited and finite. This is G‑d’s conventional power that we call nature.

When G‑d performs a miracle—and the greater the miracle the more so—we experience G‑d’s unfiltered power. The world could not endure this power on a continuing and protracted basis. This aspect of G‑dly revelation is associated with the name of G‑d that we cannot and may not pronounce—the four lettered Tetragrammaton that is colloquially referred to as the name Havaye.

Concerning these two manifestations of G‑dly power the Psalmist states: “For G‑d [Havaye] Elokim are like the sun and its shield.” Chassidus explains that Havaye is the unfiltered light of G‑d and compares it to the intense light of the sun that we could not endure but for the sun’s sheath that shields us from its powerful rays. This shield is identified by the name Elokim.

But even with respect to miracles, some stand out as unique and therefore express an even more sublime and unfiltered G‑dly energy. The splitting of the Red Sea is such a miracle.

In light of this analysis, the question may be asked, why is making a marriage considered so difficult? Isn’t it quite natural for two single people to get married? Doesn’t it say in the Torah with respect to the very first marriage, of Adam and Eve, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Marriage is the normal and common state of being. Why make the radical comparison to the Splitting of the Red Sea, the “mother of all miracles?”

Splitting the Sea and Marriage

To answer this question it is necessary to understand the thematic connection between the miracle of the splitting of the sea and marriage.

When the Torah describes the splitting of the sea it states, “the water was for them a wall on their right and on their left.” G‑d could have performed this miracle—which allowed the Jews to escape and the Egyptian pursuers to drown—in any number of ways. What symbolism is there in choosing to have the water stand like a wall on both sides? Indeed, when Joshua split the Jordan on the way into the Land of Israel some forty years later, the Biblical text describes the water as piling up on one side. Why was it necessary to have the water form two walls?

The Midrashic work, Mechilta, explains that the walls that were on the right and on the left represent the two modalities of Torah and prayer, or Tefillin and Mezuzah. We merited this miracle, according to the Mechilta, because of our fidelity to these diverse Mitzvos.

Now it is easily understood how Mezuzah and Tefillin are connected to right and left. The Mezuzah is placed on the right doorpost and Tefillin are worn on the left arm. But how do Torah and prayer fit into the right and left configuration?

Torah-Right, Prayer-Left

Chassidic thought explains that Torah represents G‑d’s flow of wisdom from its Divine source down to our human intellect. Torah is thus compared to water that flows downward. This trait of flowing downward is also an expression of kindness where the one more fortunate—“above”—showers his or her resources on one who is less fortunate—“below.” Torah is thus also referred to in the Book of Proverbs as Toras Chesed, the Torah of kindness.

Prayer, by contrast, represents the effort of the human being to raise himself or herself to a higher level. The ladder in Jacob’s dream, the Zohar states, is the ladder of prayer that enables a lowly human being to rise upward to the heavens. The process of prayer is one of self-judgment and refinement. These qualities are associated with gevurah - severity or judgment – the trait that is the opposite of chesed/kindness.

Torah and prayer, which represent chesed and gevurah, and similarly Tefillin and Mezuzah, are therefore symbolized by the two parallel walls that were a result of the splitting of the Red Sea.


We can now see that the splitting of the sea into walls on the right and on the left reflected G‑d’s system of duality - between chesed and gevurah - in the spiritual realm which translates imperfectly in the physical world as the disparate and opposite forces of right and left.

In the realm of spirituality, right and left are both positive although they come from different directions and involve opposite traits. When these two modalities manifest themselves in the material world, however, the right and left become more divergent, and degenerate to the point where the right may symbolize goodness and kindness and the left may represent the negative forces in our world, including outright evil.

These two opposite forces of right and left provide us with two separate challenges. The positive or prescriptive Mitzvos-commandments we perform are designed to generate positive energy associated with the right. The negative or proscriptive Mitzvos are the means by which we resist, fight and negate the negative—symbolized by the left.

Unification of Right and Left

This explains the greatness of the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. This was not just a means to save the Jewish nation from the Egyptian pursuers. G‑d could have done that in so many other ways. It was also not simply a way of punishing the Egyptians for centuries of barbaric torture of the Jews. The splitting of the Red Sea was the divine combination of right and left. It was the ultimate act of kindness and compassion for the Jewish people, who might not have been quite so deserving at that time. Simultaneously, it was a time when G‑d unleashed the ultimate forces of destruction associated with the left-handed attribute of gevurah.

For these two diametrically opposite attributes to coexist defies our understanding of the natural order. Right and left cannot coexist unless a higher power which transcends both right and left unifies them. That was the aspect of the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea that is described as “difficult.” It was not just a miracle where the laws of nature were suspended; it was a miracle that confounded our belief that opposites such as right and left cannot possibly coexist.

A similar dynamic is true of marriage. The successful union of the two opposite spiritual forces that are male and female can only exist when there is an overarching Divine force that brings them together in a most harmonious fashion.

Two Dimensions of Marriage

But even in marriage there are two dimensions.

In a discourse delivered for this Shabbos (forty years ago) the Rebbe elaborated on how the dual modalities of right and left will change in the Messianic Age. In that era evil will cease to be. The prophet Zecharya prophesized, “the spirit of impurity I will obliterate from the earth.” Yes, there will still be two modalities but rather than opposing forces of right and left, both entities will be associated with the right. There will be no evil and we will no longer need to negate it. Both of our forces will be directed to spiritual growth and elevation.

In truth, even today the two disparate forces that we have are in their root and source truly one. However that unity is not evident in most areas of life. In the Messianic Age that will change. We will be able to see that what appear as separate forces are actually one and the same.

We can now appreciate more deeply the blessings recited at a Jewish wedding. One of the blessings in the Sheva Berachos-Seven Blessings refers to the first wedding of Adam and Eve. The blessing concludes with the words: “He Who brings gladness to the bridegroom and the bride,” as if they are entities linked together by marriage. The next blessing describes marriage in the future. This blessing concludes with the phrase, “He Who gladdens the Bridegroom with the bride,” suggesting a total or completely bonded union.

A wedding today possesses aspects of both features: It is a reenactment of the first union of Adam and Eve that miraculously brought together two opposites, just as in the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. It is also a portent, a sample and a taste of the wedding of the future, where the unity of opposites will be experienced on the highest level.

Moshiach Matters
"Concerning your second question, 'Has the time changed and is it permissible to act forcefully to bring about the ketz [the end of exile and the beginning of the Redemption]?' Yes. Times have changed and not only is it permissible, but it is obligatory to strongly demand of G‑d to usher in our Redemption."(Rabbi Hillel of Kulmaya in his book of responsa, Avkat Rochail)