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” (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”! 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?
 Exo 13:17
 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!