Of all the many “sub” miracles which, all together, comprise the awesome, mega-miracle that was the Splitting of the Red Sea, the one that most fascinates me is described in the Midrash (Shemot Rabba, 21, 11).
“Rebi Nehorai taught: A daughter of Israel who was crossing the sea with her son in her arms and he began to cry, simply reached out her arm and picked an apple or a pomegranate out of the sea and gave it to him, as it says in Tehillim 106, 9 –ויוליכם בתהומות כמדבר (HKB”H led them in the depths as He did in the desert).”
Crossing the Red Sea was not a five minute walk. At its widest point it is around 200 miles wide and at its narrowest around 18 miles. Even if we say that Am Yisrael crossed at the narrowest point near or around the modern location of Pi-Hairote (Pi HaChirot in the Tanach), it is a serious hike. One can get thirsty or peckish along the way. HKB”H made sure that Am Yisrael lacked for nothing. According to the Mechilta (Beshalach, according to R’ Yona, chap. 1, 5, 5) if someone was thirsty they stretched out their hand and the wall of sea water melted into their hand as sweet drinking water. If they were hungry they stretched out their hand and plucked a fruit from the many trees growing in the sea! Some opinions say that Am Yisrael ate the fruit, others say they fed it to the birds who joined in singing Shirat HaYam.
According to the above Midrash, HKB”H was consistent, He fed us at Yam Suf the same way He fed us in the Midbar. Everyone knows that we drank water from the Well of Miriam and ate the Mann, but from where do we know that we also had fruit trees in the Midbar?
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 19, 26) says that everywhere Bnei Yisrael traveled in the desert, the Well of Miriam accompanied them and when they stopped to camp, the water from the well would overflow onto the ground around it and miraculously fruit trees would instantly spring up, together with vast expanses of grass and other seeds. It would convert every stop on the way into a veritable oasis.
What interests me however is why the Midrash chose to emphasize two specific types of fruit – apples and pomegranates. It could just as easily have said grapes, figs, dates, etc. Why not choose fruit of the Shiv’at Haminim? OK, pomegranates are, but not apples! What is special about apples and pomegranates that they are given honorary mention in the Midrash?
In Sefer Meir Panim (chap. 15, pg. 165) I analyze the pasuk from Shir Hashirim (8, 5) תחת התפוח עוררתיך וכו’ which the Mefarshim bring to exalt the righteousness of the wives of Am Yisrael. These נשים צדקניות would put on makeup and dress up to look pretty and after a back-breaking day of slave labor, despite their exhaustion, they would entice their husbands under the “apple” tree. Mainly due to their efforts Am Yisrael multiplied prodigiously פרו וישרצו וירבו וכו’.
The question is – “What apple tree?” There are no apple trees in Egypt! Anyone who knows anything about gardening knows that apple trees need a cold climate to fruit. The equatorial, desert climate of Egypt is not suitable for growing apples, not back then and not today!
In Sefer Meir Panim I bring a principle which says that the תפוח referred to in the pasuk is not referring to the fruit – an apple, but rather to the word “puffed up, risen,” alluding to the fact that the eitz hada’at in Gan Eden was a wheat tree (according to the shita of R’ Yehuda in Brachot 40a) which Chava ground up and baked into a risen, chametz bread.
The Mefarshim explain that the primary purpose of our exile in Egypt was to atone for the sin of the eitz hada’at and restore the Creation to its initial state before the sin. By the self-sacrificial act of the wives of Am Yisrael, they atoned for Adam and Chava’s tardiness in fulfilling the mitzvah of פרו ורבו. The reference in Shemot Rabba above is not a man, but a “daughter of Israel” reaching out her hand to feed her infant – specifically the women and the fruits of their labor.
That explains the תפוח. What about the רימון, the pomegranate? What is its significance in this context, that it merited honorary mention?
Again we visit Shir Hashirim (4,3) כפלח הרמון רקתך. The Gemara (Eruvin 19a) quotes Reish Lakish who says that even the sinners in Israel, despite being sinners, are still full of mitzvot like seeds of a pomegranate. אל תיקרי רקתך אלא ריקתך meaning those among you who are “empty.” Despite the fact that most of Am Yisrael upon their Exodus from Egypt were on the brink of the lowest spiritual level (the 49th gate of impurity), the spark that lives in the neshama of a Jew can be rekindled and will explode and overflow with light, like the proliferate seeds of a pomegranate. This is in fact what happened, in the 49 days following, HKB”H reignited that spark and Am Yisrael rose to their spiritual zenith at Har Sinai.
The reason we use a branch from the pomegranate tree as a spit to roast the Korban Pesach is twofold. Firstly a practical reason – it has few to no “knots” in the wood that weaken the spit (Pesachim 74a), but on a deeper level – because it embodies the essence of Am Yisrael when they left Egypt, their reality, but also their possibility.
These two symbols accompanied Am Yisrael through their journeys in the desert, the righteousness of Neshot Yisrael and the spark of hope and possibility in all of Am Yisrael.
The continuation of the pasuk תחת התפוח עוררתיך is – שמה חבלתך אמך, there (under the eitz hada’at) your mother (Chava) “sabotaged” you. The word שמה (there) describes the affliction, but it also describes the remedy – שמה and משה are the same letters. HKB”H sent us a savior, a גואל to take us out of Egypt 3334 years ago and He will also send a savior to redeem us. The gematria of the word שמה/משה is –אורו של משיח. Speedily in our days.
Pesach Trivia Question: Why did the Red Sea refuse to split, even though Hashem told Moshe it would when he showed the signs – the ברית מילה (זכות אברהם) and Yosef’s coffin (זכות יוסף)?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Which Mincha offering in the Mikdash most resembles the matzo we eat on Pesach? The Rekikim offering consists of ten thin, round matzos, very similar to what we eat today on Pesach. They were larger (each made from a 10th of an isaron of flour, approximately 7 ounces) and were most likely soft and flexible, more resembling today’s Sefardi matzos and not the hard cracker-like Ashkenazi matzos.