Kingdom of Priests

Tomorrow, according to Biblical tradition, is the anniversary of the splitting of the Red Sea in 1313 BCE, when Pharaoh’s army pursuing the escaped Israelite slaves was hurled into the sea by God and drowned. Jews read the relevant passages from the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 13:17-15:26, in synagogues for this seventh day of Passover. It’s all very relevant to a theme of this blog: the Jews and their universal mission.

As Rabbi S.R. Hirsch asks, the key question is why God felt the need to take the Jews on this roundabout course, by the “way of the wilderness of the Red Sea,” or Sea of Reeds, in the first place.

The answer:

It was not the sword at their side that was lacking, but the heart underneath that failed…[A]bove all they lacked the spirit of trustfully putting themselves in God’s hands under any and all circumstances….

The object of the establishment of a Jewish nation was that amongst the nations of the world who develop their national life unconsciously under the guidance of God, there should be a people who were fully conscious of God in their national life. But the Jews were not ripe for such a life. In such a life one has simply to use all one’s own powers to the fullest extent of human possibility to the ends which God sets, and leave the success of such efforts to the promised support of God….This they were to learn from extraordinary experiences, and this education was the meaning and object of the wandering in the wilderness, the meaning of the detour which God now made them take.

But the lesson of trust was not meant only for the Jews. It was to be carried by Jews to the world. On the verse, “My victory and song is God, that was my salvation. Henceforth He is my God, I will be His home. He was already my father’s God, I will raise Him still higher” (Exodus 15:2), Hirsch writes that:

[God] had already proved Himself as God to my father. As such was He recognized by my ancestors and handed down to me. But through me the knowledge of His greatness and His sovereign authority and control shall be raised ever higher and higher. Hereby the mission of every succeeding generation in Israel is indicated — to carry on the spreading of the knowledge of God…to an ever-ascending height.

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