The Greatness of Krias Yam Suf

Vayasa Moshe es Yisrael miYam Suf (Shemos 15:22)

At the end of the Maggid section of the Haggadah there is a dispute regarding the total number of plagues that befell the Egyptians at the Yam Suf. All the opinions quoted there agree that the punishments meted out at the Yam Suf were five times greater than those that occurred in Egypt, for the plagues in Egypt are compared to a finger, while those at the Yam Suf are likened to a hand, which contains five fingers.

Harav Yisroel Reisman notes that this portion of the Haggadah is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, it appears to be completely out of place on a night when we are focused on recounting the Exodus from Egypt that took place on 15 Nisan. Although Krias Yam Suf was an essential component of our salvation, it did not occur until one week later and therefore seems misplaced.

Additionally, on the night when we were are supposed to be focused on the unprecedented scale of the Exodus, it seems highly incongruous to go out of our way to point out that the magnitude of the Exodus pales in comparison to the grandeur of Krias Yam Suf.

Rav Reisman likens this to a speaker at a vort getting up and saying that while the chassan is indeed a 10, he’s nothing compared to his chavrusa, who is a 50 — five times more impressive than the chassan. Certainly nobody would be so socially inappropriate as to get up and belittle the chassan in such a manner. Why then do we do exactly that at the Seder?

Rav Reisman suggests that the key to understanding this discussion in the Haggadah is to appreciate why in fact Hashem caused Krias Yam Suf to be so much greater than the initial Exodus. After the Jewish people crossed the Yam Suf and witnessed the downfall of their oppressors, the Torah records that Moshe had to compel them to journey onward. Why were they interested in remaining at the seashore?

Rashi explains that the pursuing Egyptian army was so confident that they would defeat and capture the fleeing Jewish slaves that they bedecked their horses with gold and silver adornments. After they drowned, the Jews were so busy collecting these items that Moshe had to force them to move on. Just as the Haggadah states regarding the makkos, Rashi writes that the spoils received at the Yam Suf were even greater than the wealth that the Jews took with them from the Egyptians as they were leaving Mitzrayim. Why did Hashem want the plagues and the booty at the Yam Suf to be so much greater?

Rav Reisman explains that when a person wants to show somebody that he cares about him, he needs to do something extra, above and beyond what is required of him. For example, if Reuven borrows money from Shimon and pays him back at the prearranged time, that does not demonstrate any emotional connection between them, for Reuven is simply fulfilling his obligation.

Chazal teach (Zohar Chadash Yisro 31a) that when the Jewish people were liberated from Egypt, they had sunk to the 49th level of spiritual impurity, and if they had remained there any longer, they would have been lost forever. In a sense, this forced Hashem’s hand, for He had promised Avraham (Bereishis 15:14) that his descendants would ultimately be freed from their enslavement in a foreign land, and if Hashem did not take them out now, it would be too late. Thus, the Exodus from Egypt does not inherently prove that Hashem loves us, as it is possible that He only freed us because He felt compelled to keep His word.

Because of this uncertainty, the Jewish people were frightened when they found themselves trapped at the Yam Suf. Although Hashem had already performed countless miracles on their behalf, they had no proof that He did so because He truly cared about them.

In the event that He only redeemed them to honor His promise to Avraham, that pledge had now been fulfilled and they had no guarantee that He would continue to be there for them. Thus, when Hashem rescued the Jews at the Yam Suf in miraculous fashion, in addition to the actual salvation that they experienced, they also recognized for the first time that He did in fact care for them, and that everything He had done for them was motivated not by compulsion, but by love.

Their proof was based on the fact that Hashem had made no promises to Avraham regarding the Yam Suf, and had certainly not committed Himself to providing additional treasure, yet He did so voluntarily.

Rav Reisman adds that this lesson that we derive from Krias Yam Suf and this portion of the Haggadah is also relevant to each of us. If we want to form an emotional connection to another person, be it a family member, a neighbor, or a coworker, we must remember that doing what is expected of us is simply fulfilling our basic obligations. Creating a bond can only be accomplished by going above and beyond and doing the extra things that show we truly care.

Q: What unique feature did Moshe seek in the soldiers who were chosen to fight against Amalek?

A: Rabbeinu Ephraim writes that kishuf (sorcery) does not have any power over a person born in Adar Sheini. Moshe recognized that the power of Amalek comes through kishuf, so when he instructed Yehoshua (Shemos 17:9), “Choose men for us,” he was telling him to select soldiers who were born in Adar Sheini, against whom Amalek’s kishuf would have no effect.

He adds that Moshe was also particular in assigning this task to Yehoshua, for the battle against Amalek took place in the month of Iyar. The mazal of Iyar is the ox, and Yehoshua was descended from Yosef, who is described as (Devarim 33:17) “bechor shoro” — his firstborn ox.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.