Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Defying Nature


"The sea saw and fled" - vayanos (Tehillim 114:3). What did the sea see that caused it to split? The coffin of Yosef, as it says (Breishis 39:12), ‘and he fled - vayanas - and went outside" (Breishis Rabba 87:8).

What is the connection between the righteousness of Yosef, who resisted the advances of Potiphar's wife, and the splitting of the sea which saved Am Yisroel? Initially, the sea refused to split, citing the natural order, and didn't do so until it saw Yosef's coffin. Yosef defied human nature that would otherwise have made it almost impossible to avoid sinning (Sotah 36b, see Rashi Breishis 49:26). If he could overcome the most powerful drive of human nature, the sea could overcome its nature of not splitting as well.

How did Yosef overcome his natural instincts? He focused on the image of his father Yaakov which was, in fact, supernatural, as it was engraved on Hashem's heavenly throne (Breishis Rabba 82:2, Rashi Yechezkel 1:5). By focusing upon it, Yosef was able to defy nature, thereby enabling the great supernatural miracle of krias yam suf.


"In the merit of bris milah I will split the sea for them" (Yalkut Shimoni Yirmiyahu 33 [321]). One of the reasons given for bris milah is that it curbs the male desire, enabling man to overcome his lusts (Moreh Nevuchim). This ability to overcome human nature based on bris milah caused the sea to split against its nature, just as Yosef's coffin did.

We see the custom of reciting shiras hayam responsively on the day of a milah, highlighting the connection between mila and krias Yam Suf. Furthermore, the piyut Yom L'yabasha by Rav Yehuda Halevi is recited at a bris and on the seventh day of Pesach. This liturgical poem refers to bris milah and krias Yam Suf, further emphasizing the connection between them. In addition, the first word of the shira, az, has the numerical value of eight, corresponding to the eighth day of mila. The Maharal (Ner Mitzva) explains that the number eight represents the supernatural.

Finally, the medrash (Vayikra Rabba 21:5) says that Aharon enters the Kodesh Kodoshim b'zos, in the merit of mila described (Breishis 17:10) as "zos brisi". The Kodesh Kodoshim is a completely spiritual place. Only one who rises above nature through bris mila can enter there. The Maharal adds that the world was created in seven days. Since seven represents nature, eight is supernatural. The eight days of Chanuka and the eight garments of the Kohein Gadol reflect this theme as well.

The phrase "hashira hazos" (Shemos 15:1) is connected to zos brisi of mila. We are now fit to sing this song for we have undergone bris mila (Shemnos Rabba 23:12). The connection between mila, krias yam suf and the subsequent shira is their common reflection of the supernatural.


A man was about to sin with a beautiful woman. At the last minute his tzitzis flapped into his face, and he overcame his desire to sin. The woman was so impressed by this miracle (Rashi) that she found the man's rebbi and beis medrash, converted to Judaism and married him (Menachos 44a).

Tzitzis empowers a man to defy his nature by not straying after his eyes (Bamidbar 15:39). Like the image of Yaakov Avinu, the techeiles of tzitzis resembles the sea, the sky, and the kisei hakavod, Hashem's throne of glory (Menahcos 43b). The eight strings of tzitzis, like the eight days of mila, represent the ability to overcome nature.

The eight strings of tzitzis correspond to the eight days leading up to krias yam suf (Rashi Bamidbar 15:41). Although the sea split at the seventh day of Pesach, we count eight from erev Pesach (Sifsei Chachamim, Rabbeinu Bachya). This unusual starting point is used to link the supernatural miracle of krias Yam Suf with the number eight and the ability of tzitzis to inspire us to overcome nature.

In the piyut Yom L'yabasha, Rav Yehuda Halevi mentions tzitzis immediately after bris mila. These two mitzvos, linked to the number eight, enable us to overcome nature. In this way they relate to krias Yam Suf, the ultimate miracle performed on the eighth day.


The Ohr Hachaim (Shemos 14:27) explains that at the time of creation Hashem stipulated that nature is subservient to Torah and those who toil in it. When the sea realized that Moshe was a true ben-Torah, it split in accordance with the aforementioned stipulation.

The Torah is a supernatural force, given after seven weeks which represent nature (Maharal). It preceded the creation of the world (Breshis Rabba 1) and represents the wisdom and essence of Hashem Himself in this world. Accordingly, if one is sufficiently involved in learning Torah, he can overcome the natural temptations of the yetzer hara (Kiddushin 30b). One must focus himself and his thoughts on divrei Torah, for erotic thoughts prevail only in a heart bereft of Torah wisdom (Rambam Isurei Biah 22:21).

In today's world, the yetzer hara is closer than ever, accessible with the click of a button. Pornographic offerings flood the internet. Many have strayed after their eyes, and some have become addicted. One precaution is to prohibit yichud - seclusion - with the internet. The computer screen should be in a public part of the house, and its activity should be traceable by another person.

No precaution can prevent a committed sinner from achieving his goal. We must be proactive in avoiding this behavior pattern and the only way to do so is to increase Torah study and a deep commitment to a Torah way of life.


Parents are duty-bound to take appropriate precautions to protect their children from succumbing to the ever present yetzer hara. New technology demands greater vigilance. More importantly, parents must serve as proper role models for their children. Yosef was saved by the image of his father Yaakov. Every parent must play such a role.

While none of us can be as great as Yaakov, we must do our best to create an image which will deter our children from sinning. This requires greater involvement in Torah study and practice, and total avoidance of impropriety in matters relating to arayos. Children are acutely aware of any indiscretion in this area. A father who tells, or even smiles at, off color jokes (see Shabbos 33a) or a mother who dresses provocatively do not provide images to deter their children from doing likewise or worse. One who converses with or touches a man/woman in a manner proscribed by halacha implicitly encourages one's children, who have no established borders, to violate even greater aveiros.

Even worse are parents who claim to be totally virtuous, and demand that their children do likewise, while surreptitiously talking, looking, or acting in a halachically prohibited way. The hypocrisy leads to a greater degree of disrespect by children towards their parents.

While youngsters are attracted to permissive lifestyles, they leave halachic practice not so much because of this attraction but rather because of repulsion from the Torah way. This is the essential thesis of the recently published work "Off the Derech" (by Faranak Margolese, Dvora Publishing). Hypocrisy and inconsistency of parents (and teachers) in any area is devastating. In the realm of arayos such behavior's impact on children is even more damaging.

Indeed, the only way to avoid the pitfalls of the yetzer harah is by placing greater emphasis on Torah and yiras Shomayim. As we read about the supernatural krias Yam Suf, we must recall that Yosef's overcoming human nature, with the help of the exalted image of Yaakov, enabled this miracle. The symbolism of mila and tzitzis, and the subservience of the natural order to Torah, are critical lessons derived from their role in krias Yam Suf as well.

The miracle of krias Yam Suf portends the great miracle of the ultimate geulah. If we can defy human nature and lead our lives according to halacha, and not succumb to the ever present temptations that surround us, we will hopefully hasten the final redemption.

Copyright © 2007 by The TorahWeb Foundation. All rights reserved.