The staff, was raised, but the waters didn’t part. The sweat on the brow of the Israelites was more than desert heat, as Pharaoh’s charioteers thundered closer. The water before them seemed to be their saving grace, but without knowledge of how to swim (now a requirement to teach Jewish children), and with the staff raised in the air not yet causing the waters to even ripple, sour perspiration dripped down onto their tunics.
What to do when the staff is in the air, but the water still remains?
There are a few midrashim which discuss what happens next. Some discuss the various tribes bickering, turning on one another in the midst of the pressure, throwing stones at one another, until finally one made it into the sea. I can’t find the source of a similar midrash which says while the men were bickering, it was the women who set forth.
The most famous story tells of Nachshon ben Aminadav who steps our of the sea of doubt into the swirling waters, saying “Mi Chamocha baelim Adonai”. He elaborates, while choking on the water “Mi Kamocha ne’edar bakodesh.” Only when he was completely submerged, do the waters part, and the people are able to follow through the sea.
Who is the protagonist of the story? Is it God? Moses? The Egyptians? Miriam and the women? When we focus on any of these perspectives and raise their voices - give them names and tell their stories, how does that influence what we get out of the story?
Our rabbis are very conscious of this in the retelling their story. In the rabbinic literature it discusses how some rabbis would actually add God into the retelling of the story in their copies of the Hebrew Bible (Exodus Rabbah 24) where it says "And Moses led Israel onward”, lamenting, "Alas! Do you thus requite the Lord after all the miracles He has performed for you, dividing the sea for you into twelve portions and drowning the Egyptians in the sea, drowning them with one hand and saving you with the other, as it says, Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, Your right hand, O Lord, dashes in pieces the enemy (Ex.15:6)” - maybe this is why Moses isn’t mentioned in the Haggadah.
The same technique is used in the news today. The narrative in the news isn’t about how the UK’s asylum system is broken - criminalising anyone seeking to claim legal asylum when they reach these shores - which they can only do illegally under the current system. The stories of victims and families are not told, and they are barely mentioned by the Home Office. Instead a narrative and scheme which targets an amorphous evil villain has been put in place - the people traffickers. Instead of focusing on how there is no path through the sea, the focus is on the illegal economy which has been created to release pent-up demand, as happens in almost every other area of government regulation. Some nations legalise, tax and control black and grey markets. Others create boogeymen, and pray for the best. I am learning about JCORE - the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, and have recently stumbled across this Passover resource https://www.jcore.org.uk/pesach
The stories we tell are important, and shape the narrative. Our religious traditions teach us this, and give us guidance as we work towards freedom for all.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom