Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Kryas Yam Suf - Splitting of the sea. A question looking for an answer.

This Shabbos we will be reading the story of kryas yam suf. The story reads that the sea split at Moshe's behest just in time for Jews to pass and the Egyptians to drown.

Rambam in Pirush Hamishna Avos 5:5 says that on the second day of creation, when water was created, it acquired the ability to split when it will be needed. In other words, God being omniscient, knew that at some point in time in the future, this ability to split will be needed providing it as part of water's nature. In Moreh 2:29 he further clarifies that water had in its nature that under certain circumstances it would flow upwards (against gravity) rather than down. In Shemona Perakim chapter 8, he further comments that all miracles are really natural events that are seen as miraculous because they are so rare. The rarity of the occurrence gives the impression that it is something that is caused by some change in nature but it really is not. So far it is clear that Rambam understands the splitting of the sea as a natural event. However in Iggeres Techyas Hamessim at the end he discusses miracles that are not naturally possible "hanimnaim bateva" and similarly to his expostion on the same in Moreh 2:29 says that they have to be short lived adding that otherwise they would not be recognized as miraculous. So far so good but when he enumerates the examples, he mentions the staff turning into a snake, that it was seen as a miracle when it became a staff again and to our utter surprise brings the fact the sea returned to its earlier state as an additional prooftext! Hasn't he just told us that that was a natural event?

I could split hair and say that the sea returning and swamping the Egyptians just after the Jews passed, the timing was unnatural. Others would argue that in the next section of the letter he explains that he is not always explicit so as not to confuse the plain folks and expects smarter people to read him properly. If that is the case I would have to understand what forced him to include this example. I cannot put the issue to rest with such answers. So far I am stumped and would love to hear from readers what their ideas are.


  1. I thought about this a lot too. I would venture to say that based on the context of Moreh 2:28-29, the Ramabam is merely challenging/refuting the popular notion that G-d makes CAPRICIOUS breaks with nature and will Randomly depart from the order of the world AT WHIM. He is arguing against chaos in nature which leads to belief in many superstitions and extreme gullability in taking every midrash aggada absolutely literally on its most simplistic level.
    The Midrash of G-d pre-programming the Yam Suf in advance is an illustration of the PRECISION and Structure that G-d employs when He uses the miraculous.
    But the Rambam is not arguing that they are really NATURAL events at all. They are truly violations of natural law. But finly orchestrated and not capricious.
    Just my two cents.
    The Ramban and Rashba who argue on the Rambam only say he went to far. But agree that nature is not randomly chaotic. I plan on posting on this soon.

  2. Wasn't the whole Iggeres Techiyas Hamaysim only written because the kannoim were upset with him and felt he wasn't clear enough about TH? If so, maybe the whole letter was a fop for their benefit (and the masses) and doesn't reflect the Rambam's true views.

  3. GH, I posited that but if you get accustomed to reading Rambam you realize that the man was incredibly thoughtfull and if he could get away with staying accurate he would. So why did he have to bring the example of the sea when he already had two others?

  4. Perhaps Rambam is telling us that there are two ways to understand the splitting of the Red Sea and other miracles - both as miraculous events and as natural events - and that Judaism can co-exist with wither.

  5. Does the Rambam mention the fact that the pasuk talks about a wind coming and blowing all night to split the sea?

  6. HH . the possuk does and Rambam expects us to know it. By saying that water had in its nature to flow upwards, he would probably consider it could be caused by a wind to do so. What is your point?