Divrei Torah on the weekly portions
The Red See
"And Moses stretched out his hand over the Red Sea .... and the waters parted" (Shemot 14:21).
Rabbi Yosef Feimer of Slotzk, quoted in MiShulchan Gavoha, cites the Midrash: "HaYam Ra'ah VaYanos" (from Psalm 114:3 in the Halel prayer) = "The (Red) Sea saw and fled" - What did the Sea see? It saw the Beraita* of Rabbi Yishmael.
We may ask what is so special about the Beraita of Rabbi Yishmael that it should cause the Red Sea to part? Furthermore, the verse in Halel continues "HaYarden Yisov LeAchor" = "The Jordan River (in Joshua's time) will turn backwards". Why is the future tense used for the second part of the verse, whilst the past tense was used for the first part of the verse? Shouldn't the verse conclude "The Jordan River turned backwards", in the past tense?
Rabbi Yosef Feimer explains that the verse should be read as follows: "The Red Sea saw (into the future) and fled (before Moses) because the Jordan (in Joshua's time) will turn backwards". In other words, the Red Sea reasoned a Kal VaChomer# (a fortiori) argument that if the Jordan would split for Joshua who was only Moses' student then how much more so should the Red Sea split for Moses himself! Kal VaChomer is the first of the 13 principles of Biblical exegesis which are enumerated in the Beraita of Rabbi Yishmael!
The life lesson we can learn from this fascinating teaching is clear. If we would put on our best behaviour in the presence of a king, then Kal VaChomer, how much more so, should we conduct ourselves commendably before the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed Is He.
* The Beraitas are supplements to the Mishnah, forming part of the Oral Law.
# A classic example of a Kal VaChomer (a fortiori) is that if an activity is forbidden on Yom Tov then how much more so would that activity be forbidden on Shabbat (whose laws are more strict than Yom Tov).