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The Seventh Day of Passover

 Shëvi‘i shel Pesach (The Seventh Day of Passover)

The seventh day of Passover commemorates the splitting of Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds, and Israel’s final deliverance from Egyptian bondage thrugh the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. Accordingly, we read the account of the splitting, from Exodus III,17-V,26 on this holiday.

The scene at the seashore is familiar enough: the multitude of men and women of all ages, encumbered with children and all their worldly possessions, cower in terror-stricken panic as they watch the headlong rush of every vehicle in Egypt which would roll, all bearing maddened soldiers bent on their liquidation.

Then Moshe’s voice rings out, stilling their frightened protests: Al tira’u, hithyatzvu urë’u eth yëshu‘ath Ha-Shem asher ya‘ase lachem hayom ki asher rë’ithem eth Mitzrayim hayom lo’ thosifu lir’otham ‘od ‘ad ‘olam (“Fear not, position yourselves and see Ha-Shem’s salvation which He will do for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today you will not continue to see them forever more"; IV,14).  And, indeed: Vayar’ Yisra’él eth Mitzrayim méth ‘al sëfath hayam. Vayar’ Yisra’él eth hayad hagëdola asher ‘asa Ha-Shem bëMitzrayim vayir’u ha‘am eth Ha-Shem vaya’aminu ba-Shem uvëMoshe ‘avdo (“And Israel saw Egypt dead at the edge of the sea. And Israel saw the great hand which Ha-Shem had made for them through Egypt, and the people feared Ha-Shem and believed in Ha-Shem and in Moshe, His servant";  ibid., 30-31).

Two things are striking about the above passages: the first is the interplay between the two rather similar verbs yara’ (“fear”) and ra’a (“see”). A bit of reflection reveals that they appear related, in that both share the letters réysh-alef, which in the first instance is augmented  by the radical prefix yud and in the second by suffixation of silent hé, which finds expression as a vowel. The implications of this relationship are worth exploring.

The second is the odd expression “the great hand” which Ha-Shem had made for them through the medium of Egypt’s downfall. Whatever does that mean?

Let us deal with the second first. The great 16th century thinker known as the Maharal miPrag sheds light on it in his classic work, Gëvuroth Ha-Shem, revealing a very deep and esoteric insight.

He begins by quoting a midrash familiar to anyone who attends the Passover séder: “Rabbi Yossi says, Whence do you say that the Egyptians suffered ten blows (makkoth) and at the sea fifty makkoth? Concerning Egypt what does it say? And the chartumim said to Pharaoh, It is the finger of G-d.’ (Exodus VIII,15). And at the sea what does it say? ‘And Israel saw the great hand which Ha-Shem made….’ How much were they afflicted by the finger? Ten makkoth, and at the sea they were afflicted fifty makkoth.” For Rabbi Yossi it appears to be a simple multiplication problem: ten makkoth per finger by five fingers yields fifty makkoth.