May 26, 2024
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Beshalach: Split the Sea, Win a Prize

Anyone can tell the story of the splitting of the Red Sea. The Israelites were up against the shoreline. The Egyptians were bearing down on them with charriots and spears. It didn’t look good. Suddenly, G-d intervenes, the waters part, the nation flees to safety, and the pursuing Egyptians wind up in the drink in a big way. It was definitely a huge miracle, one that all the people witnessed.

But how do you get a room of sixth graders to appreciate such a great miracle? Rabbi Kravitz wrestled with that dilemna every year.

Three years ago he took his class to the aquarium in Point Pleasant, lined the students up opposite the giant shark tank, put their cheeks against the glass, and tried to get them to imagine a wall of water crashing down on them. He felt that was only a limited success.

Two years ago he brought a group to the Paterson Falls and tried to get them to imagine a wall of water crashing down on the Egyptian soldiers. While the trip to the waterfall was fun, and it was followed by a visit to the kosher pizza store in Passaic—a big hit with the class—Rabbi Kravitz wasn’t sure the children got the point.

Last year Rabbi Kravitz brought his class down to the banks of the Hackensack River at New Bridge Landing (where George Washington once slept at the Von Steuben House), and tried to get them to jump in. He felt that would teach them of the courage of the Israelites to have faith in G-d and step into the parting waters. But no one took the leap. It was cold, they were fully clothed, and to their knowledge, no one had bathed in the mighty Hackensack in many years. That had not been his most inspired plan, and the principal received more than a few calls from perplexed parents.

This year, Rabbi Kravitz had a new plan. He would look to his class for inspiration.

“After last year’s trip to the Hackensack River for parshat Beshalach didn’’t work out—“

[snickers from the children]

“—I’ve decided to approach the topic of Kriat Yam Suf, the splitting of the Red Sea, in a new way. We’re going to have a contest, to see who can best portray the splitting of the waters, or some aspect of the story, in a way that inspires the class and gives us a better understanding of the miracle. You have one week to prepare. You can present it any way you want. Any questions?”

“No, no water balloons.”

“Yes, you can dress in costumes.”

“No, no dogs, cats, or sheep in the classroom.”

“Yes, musical instuments are allowed.”

“I’m sure your guitar amplifier would be fine.”

“The prize will be dinner for two at the Kosher Inn. That’s not enough? O.K. The winner also has no homework for a week.”

[A gasp of approval]

A week later, the class convened on the Friday before parshat Beshalach to show what they’d done.

Becky Rosen went first.

“I constructed a reenactment of the parting of the waters using blue jello. Here you see the two walls of water standing high and straight.” [actually, it was bit jiggly] “And here are the Egyptians under the jel—uh, water, on the other side.”

“Excellent job, Becky. And what did you learn about the miracle of Keriyat Yam Suf from your project?”

“I learned that it’s harder than you might think to copy a miracle, so it must be even harder to do the original.”

“Interesting point. Who’s next?”

Mark Ben David came up next.

“I built a charging Egyptian soldier on his charriot, riding into the Red Sea to attack the Jews. You can see how angry he is.”

Sure enough, if you carefully studied his little Lego face, he did seem a bit annoyed.

“Very good, Mark. And what did you learn from your project?”

“I learned that these soldiers must have really hated us to ride after us into a parted wall of water, not knowing when it might close up. You couldn’t have paid me enough to go into the sea after the Israelites.”

“Good one, Mark. Next?”

Rachel Bienenfeld, Ariella Michaelson, and Abby Aronson came up with a guitar, an electric keyboard, and a bongo drum respectively.

“Wow. What’s your plan?”

“We set shirat Mirriam, the song Mirriam sang with the women after they were saved, to music, and we’re going to perform our song.”

“Far out.”

The tune was something like Yankee Doodle, but it really brought out the words nicely.

“Shiru laHashem ki ga-oh ga-ah

Sus verochvo rama bayam

Sing to G-d for He is highly praised

The horse and his rider He threw into the sea.”

“That was terrific. And what did you learn?”

“We learned that they must have been really happy about the splitting of the sea to break into song like that. It’s not so easy, you know.”

“Very informative, and very entertaining. Thank you.”

Jeremy Weiner and Barry Katz did a little comedy routine about jumping in as the sea was splitting, but not quite split.

“-I’m not going in there. It’s cold.”

“Yeah, and really, really salty.”

“No, no, that’s the Dead Sea, not the Red Sea.”

“Oh!”

“You go first.”

“No, no, no. After you. I want to respect my elders.”

“You’re like, what? One month younger than me?”

The class loved it, and they got a loud round of applause.

“So what did you learn?” The rabbi asked the boys.

“We learned that as much as the splitting of the sea was a huge miracle, it was also courageous of the Jews to walk between the walls of water. Who knew how long it would stay open?”

“Interesting. But I would point out that the only alternative was to be trampled and stabbed by the Egyptians.”

Jeremy did a perfect imitation of Rabbi Kravitz. “Interesting,” he said, with a knowing nod. That drew a larger laugh than their comedy routine had.

Rabbi Kravitz smiled. “Next.”

Chani Simanowitz and Shir Levine did a mime show of the splitting. Chani played the part of the seawater, in a blue terry cloth robe, and Shir was an incredulous Israelite. The room was silent for over five minutes as everyone watched the scene unfold.

“That was amazing,” the rabbi said. “So what did you learn?”

“We learned that it must have been really cool to have been there.”

“Great.”

The only one left was Ayelet Carlin. Ayelet said nothing. She placed a covered canvas in front of Rabbi Kravitz’s desk and then slowly pulled away the cover.

The painting was just one large face. It was covered with an unmistakable look of wonder and amazement. The mouth was set in a gasp, and the eyes were like two big, round orbs. In the blue-green of the eyes were fish, waves, spears, a charriot wheel, an octopus, a sandal, and sea foam.

“Really incredible,” Rabbi Kravitz said. “And what did you learn?”

“I learned that you can’t possibly understand what it must be like to witness such a huge miracle with your own two eyes.”

“That’s terrific,” Rabbi Kravitz said.

The class sat in their seats to await the announcement of the contest winner.

“You’re all winners,” Rabbi Kravitz said. “I’m taking you all out to dinner, and no one has to do homework for a whole week.”

“I knew you were going to say that,” Rachel said, amid the cheering.

“But if this is a Kriyat Yam Suf dinner, just make sure we don’t have to split the check,” Jeremy said. “Get it, split the check?”

“That’s just awful,” Rabbi Kravitz said as the class let out a collective groan.

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

By Larry Stiefel

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