The Torah records in this week’s Parsha (14:27) that the waters of the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds, split only after Moshe stretched his hand over it. Moreover, the Midrash teaches that even more forceful action was required to make this miracle happen: Nachshon Ben Aminadav jumped into the sea prior to the actual split. In fact, the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 21:6) recounts that the sea spoke to Moshe and specifically told him that it would not split for him, since it had priority in creation; the sea had been created on Day Three, while Moshe, like all mankind, had been created later on day six. However, the Midrash also teaches (Bereishit Rabbah 5:5) that Hashem created this sea on the condition that it would one day split for the Jewish people. Given this, how could it be that the sea vehemently refused to split for Bnei Yisrael as they were leaving Mitzrayim, and required the intervention of Moshe and Nachshon?
The Or HaChaim writes that we must understand the specific stipulations that Hashem laid out in creating the sea. After all, the Gemara (Chullin 7a) tells of a great scholarly rabbi, Pinchas Ben Yair, who was able to make the sea split against its will. Apparently, the sea was allowed to split on at least one occasion other than Yetziat Mitzrayim. Why, then, should we assume that the condition on which it was created was that it would split specifically for Bnei Yisrael as they left Mitzrayim? And if this was a specific exception for Yetziat Mitzrayim, why would the sea, a force of nature, be able bend its own rules for Pinchas Ben Yair, especially against its will?
To explain this issue, the Or HaChaim posits that the righteous members of Bnei Yisrael are able to manipulate the forces of nature because that was the condition that Hashem stipulated at creation – that the Torah and those who exemplify it would be above and beyond the natural order. This idea explains why Pinchas Ben Yair was also able to make the sea split. One question, however, remains unanswered: why did the sea initially refuse to split for Bnei Yisrael as they left Mitzrayim?
The Or HaChaim proposes an answer to this question as well. He explains that at this point in the exodus from Egypt, Bnei Yisrael had still not received the Torah. Therefore, to the sea, their demands had no effect on the deal made when the sea was created. Since they were not above the rules of creation, the sea applied the order of the creation, and in this respect it saw no reason to obey the requests of man. However, once Moshe stretched out his hand, Hashem signaled for the sea to comply with the part of the agreement that allowed Tzaddikim such as Moshe to alter nature.
These Midrashim communicate a very important message. Jews are not simply a natural entity, but rather beings who possess the capabilities for a much greater purpose – learning and exemplifying Torah. If we successfully do this, then the possibilities before us are endless, and all obstacles will be removed from before us.
--Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Talelei Oros