On the seventh day of Pesach, we read about one of the most famous miracles in all of the Tanakh: the splitting of the Red Sea. Bnei Yisrael stand with the sea in front of them, and the great Egyptian army behind them. With no possible escape route, they call out to God. The Holy One hears their prayers and orders Moshe to lift his staff. And it is at this point that something strange happens. We refer here not to the miracle itself (for this miracle, like any other, is itself a strange phenomenon), but rather to something that takes place as part of the miracle.
To anyone who is already familiar with the story, and knows that the sea is going to part, it is clear that the sea must part within a few seconds so that Bnei Yisrael can pass through. But the Torah describes something altogether different:
“Moshe lifted his arm over the sea, and God caused the sea to be pushed back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea a dry land, with the waters divided” (Shemot 14:21).
This is a very strange miracle. By “miracle” we mean a phenomenon that deviates from the laws of nature (leaving aside the question of whether the laws of nature are themselves a miracle). A miracle is not subject to the laws of nature. Therefore it is strange that God needs to send the east wind throughout the night in order to split the sea. Why could the waters not simply part immediately?
The Ramban responsds to this as part of his answer to a different question. How could the Egyptians not have foreseen the end of the story? After all the miracles that they witnessed – each demonstrating very clearly that events were favoring Bnei Yisrael, to the detriment of the Egyptian nation – how could they not have suspected, a moment before plunging into the sea, that the story would end with their drowning?
Ramban answers that God garbed the miracle in the natural appearance of an east wind blowing all night, so as to convince the Egyptians that this was not a miracle, but rather a natural event. Thus, they were not afraid to enter the sea.
This is all well and good, but if we think a little further we discover a logical problem in Ramban’s answer. Who has ever seen a wind that can dry up the middle part of a sea, leaving a wall of water on each side? In other words – how could Paro and his army believe that this was a natural phenomenon, when in the course of nature no such thing could ever be possible?
Here Ramban adds an amazing insight: “Although the wind does not split the sea into halves, [the Egyptians] did not pay attention to this, and came after [Bnei Yisrael], out of their great desire to do evil to them.”
This is a very important psychological observation. When a person analyzes something, if he has no doubts as to the subject of his investigation, there is usually no possibility of him distorting it. But if there is a certain detail – no matter how insignificant – that may create even the tiniest doubt in his mind, this may influence the thinking of a person who “invites” such influence.
Paro’s aim was to do evil to Bnei Yisrael. If the miracle were to occur in a completely, obviously, miraculous manner, it would be difficult for him to decide – against all reason – to enter the water. But when God planted a “bait”, in the form of the east wind, to plant a grain of doubt as to the miraculous nature of the event, Paro and his army were quick to grab this straw; they decided that what they were seeing was not a miracle, and they went in. And all of this despite the fact that – upon deeper examination – the east wind did not affect one iota of the miraculous nature of the sea splitting; it did not provide any logical explanation for the phenomenon at all.
Like Paro, many of us end up using the weapon of doubt against ourselves. When there are clear proofs for a certain opinion, a person who does not wish to accept it will always find some crack, no matter how weak and insignificant, in order to cast doubt upon the entire thesis. God always leaves us a tiny opening for doubt, so as to preserve the principle of free choice. A person who wants to grasp these doubts will find a way to avoid accepting the yoke of a system, theory, approach or lifestyle that is not convenient for him.
We need to learn from Paro that when casting doubt we must be led by a more objective mode of thinking, rather than being influenced by our desires.