Picking Pomegranates (Shmini/Passover)
Rabbi Menachem Creditor with Josh Jeffreys
(April 14, 2020)
The seventh day of Passover celebrates a remarkable moment in the Exodus story: The splitting of the Red Sea. For those who have seen The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt, or those who have only seen the images associated with the films, this pivotal moment may bring to mind scenes of an explosive separating of the waters. But these cinematic masterpieces can be misleading.
While it may not make for great Hollywood drama, the biblical narrative develops more slowly. After arriving at the beach of this great watery obstacle, the Israelites – seeing themselves trapped between Pharaoh's army and the depths of the sea – complain to Moses about their disastrous predicament. Still learning to lead, Moses cries out to God for counsel and the Holy One replies simply:
...מַה־תִּצְעַ֖ק אֵלָ֑י דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְיִסָּֽעוּ׃
“What are you crying to Me? Move forward.” (translation adapted)
Faced with a seemingly impenetrable obstacle, Moses lifts his staff, and an easterly wind blows throughout the night to reveal the land below the water:
וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת־יָדוֹ֮ עַל־הַיָּם֒ וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ יְהֹוָ֣ה ׀ אֶת־הַ֠יָּ֠ם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כׇּל־הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם׃
וַיָּבֹ֧אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּ֖ם בַּיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה וְהַמַּ֤יִם לָהֶם֙ חוֹמָ֔ה מִֽימִינָ֖ם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָֽם׃
Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the LORD drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split,
and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Far from the instantaneous version of blockbuster fame, the miraculous splitting of the sea is a process. Freedom is a process and even God’s miracles take some time. But, little by little, there is a loosening of our bondage.
Having faith beyond the present moment can be a challenge. Finding sustenance during such struggles is a bit like finding an exciting food option for kids (or anyone, really) in the final days of Passover. But there is a story of our ancestors doing just that recounted in Shemot Rabbah, a collection of rabbinic stories
based on the book of Exodus:
...דָּרַשׁ רַבִּי נְהוֹרָאי, הָיְתָה בַּת יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹבֶרֶת בַּיָּם וּבְנָהּ בְּיָדָהּ וּבוֹכֶה, וּפוֹשֶׁטֶת יָדָהּ וְנוֹטֶלֶת תַּפּוּחַ אוֹ רִמּוֹן מִתּוֹךְ הַיָּם וְנוֹתֶנֶת לוֹ, שֶׁנֶאֱמַר (תהלים קו, ט): וַיּוֹלִיכֵם בַּתְּהֹמוֹת כַּמִּדְבָּר...
As the Children of Israel were crossing the sea, the actual children began to cry out for food. Seeking to comfort the cries and bellies of their children, the parents picked apples and pomegranates from the water and the children’s weeping ceased. (translation adapted)
Even in the ancient world, liberation took time and keeping faith was difficult for those who only saw the mud beneath their feet. But nourishment was available to those who looked up, and sustenance was visible to those who saw sweetness amidst the salty sea.
How might we pick a pomegranate from the sea? Where can we find joy in these tumultuous waters? What magic can we make together by celebrating the path forward toward liberation?