Parashat Beshalach: God Never Says Oops!

God Never Says Oops!

Since I have never before written comments on Exodus Torah Portions on these pages, I am now overwhelmed with all the Hebrew insights that I can share with you, my dear readers. I have to choose some, hoping that in the years to come I will be able to share more.

Our current Torah Portion, Beshalach, is a great example of so many wonderful details that are completely lost in translation. Let’s start with the very first word: while in English we read “after Pharaoh let people go”[1] (in the best case, “when Pharaoh let people go”) – in Hebrew we have this amazing construction: Beshalach (as always, our Torah Portion is called after this first word). What does Beshalach mean?  It’s an Infinitive Construct, and the closest way to translate it would be: in sending… It’s not that they already went, and then God realized that he sent them the wrong way – and He changed his mind. No, while sending them, in the very midst of this process, God knows in advance all the difficulties and challenges they will encounter on their way – and He is sending them exactly the way that He chose for them.

It’s not that we go somewhere and then we face unforeseen difficulties, and wonder whether God knew it in the first place. Maybe, He is as surprised as we are? Maybe, right now He is saying: Oops! I didn’t mean that!  No – and this is a message of this single word, BeShlach: When God sends us, He knows the end from the very beginning.  We might say “Oops!” many times, because we are all very good at making mistakes and regretting things we have done. However, God never says oops – and this is the beauty of the stories we read in the Bible and the beauty of our lives.

The Sea of the End?

What was that sea that the Israelites crossed while fleeing Egypt? In Hebrew, it’s called Yam Suf; traditionally and for many centuries, it was translated as Red Sea, probably after the Septuagint that had translated Yam Suf into Greek as Erythra Thalassa, or Red Sea.  Modern translations, however, render Yam Suf as Sea of Reeds stating that what we know today as the Red Sea is located too far south for the people of Israel to have crossed it following their Exodus from Egypt.

Therefore, the exact geographical location of Yam Suf remains a matter of dispute. Here, however, I would like to consider the translation of the name. The Hebrew wordסוף   (samech-vav-peh) can be read either as suf or as sof, i.e., the Sea of Suf or the Sea of Sof, depending upon the vocalization of the vav. Sof  in Hebrew means “end”. Earlier in the Jewish interpretative tradition, some read the word as sof and explained that it was called Yam Sof because it was the end of the world. Despite this earlier controversy among commentators, it is clear that today the word is read as suf.

Yet, I would like to contemplate the second option – Yam Sof.  Once again, the Sea of Sof would mean the Sea of End. The Sea of the End? Why would it be the Sea of the End? It was, in fact, the beginning of their freedom, the beginning of their journey as God’s chosen people. Why was it ‘the end’ – what was finished then? I find an amazing parallel here: we all know the situation, over a millennium later, when the words “it is finished” actually marked the beginning of the new era—the beginning of freedom.

Have you ever thought of how the disciples of Jesus must have felt when they heard their Rabbi whispering from the cross, in a small and weak voice: “It is finished”![2] Confused and terrified, the disciples were gathered around the cross; speechless, stunned by horror and disbelief, they were watching the agony of their Rabbi – and they gasped desperately as they took in their plain meaning: it is finished.  Doubtless, it is easy for us to comprehend the real meaning of these words – now that we know that they referred to His bloody sacrifice only, which was completed, accomplished, finished with His death; now that we know that these words actually marked, not the end, but the opposite, the beginning of a new era. It’s so easy for us to know all of it now, but at that very moment, those standing around the cross desperately watching His horrible agony and hearing these words as the very last words of their Rabbi before his death, must have gasped desperately as they took in their plain meaning: it is finished! “All our hopes are gone! It’s finished!” I suppose that, up until that very moment, they were still hoping, still believing and waiting for a miracle – not only those who mocked him, but much more His disciples, waited for Him to come down from the cross, to deliver Himself and the whole Israel, and thus prove that He indeed was the Son of God. They had waited and believed until the very last moment. However, not only did it not happen, but He Himself said that everything was finished! Astonished, they kept staring at one another: Did you hear that? He Himself just said it—these were His very last words: It is finished! Everything we hoped for, everything we believed in – everything is finished! There is nothing more to hope for, nothing more to wait for. Not only was our Rabbi and Teacher taken and crucified, not only did He die a horrible, cruel, humiliating death on a Roman cross, but before He died He had made sure we would know that – it is finished!

Thus, I would not be surprised if the name of the Sea that the people of Israel crossed was indeed called “the Sea of the End”. The Israelites thought, for a while, that it was the end of their journey with Moses – just like the disciples thought that it was the end of their journey with Jesus. In both cases, it was not the end, but the beginning; in both cases, God clearly marked the boundary between dashed human hopes and dreams – and His miracle-working power.  In His mercy and with His outstretched arms,  God is meeting us when we get to the end of ourselves- and in this sense, wouldn’t it be the most proper name for that sea: the Sea of the End?

[1] Exo 13:17

[2] John 19:30

I  would like to remind you, dear friends that eTeacher offers a wonderful course, where you can learn from Parashot Shavua commentaries along with their New Testament interpretation. As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information!  

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

You might also be interested in:

Join the conversation (8 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Gulyás Mihály

    Szia,
    Magyarul írok. Beszélek angolul, de most magyarul írok. Amikor elolvastam a cikkedet, nagyon megtetszett.
    Először is az elsőszülött fiam neve Jetró. A lányom neve Mirjam és a másik fiam neve Obed. Tetszik a családra, a hegyre, a Szövetségre, a Pünkösdre, Mózes – Jézusra vonatkozó párhozam és előkép. Fenséges.
    A második a Yam Sof – Vég tenger /Sea of End/, mondhatnám úgy is Kész – tenger /Sea of “it is finished”/. “Kész” – “It is finished” – szavak egy új kezdetet jelentettek! Abban az időben, talán ma is.
    Történt velem egy esemény, amiben elhangzott a “Kész – It is finisd” szó kifejezés.
    A pandémia kezdetekor 2020 április 05-én (virágvasárnap) reggelén meghalt a feleségem. 5 nap alatt elment. Az előző nap (szombaton) késő délután, nagyon nehezen bejutottam hozzá a korházba. Sikerült elbúcsúznunk, elköszönnünk egymástól, megköszöntük egymásnak az életet, az elmúl 41 évet amit együtt leéltünk. Az utolsó szava hozzám az volt: “kész”. Nem értettem akkor. Rákérdeztem, hogy mi van “kész”? Már nem válaszolt. Aztán még négyszer visszahívtam odaátról. Majd mondott még egy szót: “END”.
    Nem értettem, nem tudtam, talán nem akartam felfogni, elengedni. Elment, átment.
    Most értettem meg, hogy mit is jelent bibliai értelemben nézve ezek a szavak.
    Köszönöm.
    Michael Gulyás
    Hungary,
    Debrecen, 2021.02.12.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Gulyas, the translation I got through Google was very dramatic, and if Google translated it correctly and this is indeed your story, I am so sorry you had to go through this tragedy!Thank you for sharing! And if my post really helped you, even a little bit, I am very grateful and honored! Stay tuned, maybe my future articles will also touch your heart or mind.

  2. Brian Parker

    Thank you for this insight into “Sea of Sof”. I am no stranger to the first two understandings of where the Hebrew people ‘crossed over’, but this is new to me. Julia, may I use some of your information to help make members of my church community aware of this new possibility? In fact – I wonder if you might give me permission to quote from your material in an on-going manner. It would be credited back to you in all cases – I just like to present new awakenings to more students.

    Hopefully, B Parker
    Minden, ON Canada

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Brian, yes, I am giving you my permission if you give me a credit in every case, and I really appreciate you asking. I would also appreciate it if you direct your audience to my books, most of my insights can be found in my books: https://www.amazon.com/Julia-Blum/e/B00LUY0JN8?ref_=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000. Blessings!

  3. Anna Jelonek-Nowakowska

    How does it sound in Hebrew? Please write ‘it is finished’ in Hebrew!

    1. Julia Blum

      In modern Hebrew, you would just say: זה נגמר. In Hebrew New Testament, Jesus says: נשלם

  4. Nick

    At the end of all we can do, and then G-d still has us. I like that idea. Perhaps the only way to look at our own deaths. The “bitter” herbs eaten with the lamb. Hopefully, the end of self/ego, and not our lives just yet!
    Thanks Julia,
    Nick

    1. Gaea Singer

      WOW! Thank you so much Dr Blum. I love your insights!!