The focus of Parshat Beshalach is Bnei Yisrael’s crossing of the Yam Suf. After Moshe Rabbeinu split the sea, the Pasuk states, “VaYavo’u Vnei Yisrael BeToch HaYam BaYabashah VeHaMayim Lahem Chomah MiyMinam UMiSemolam,” “Bnei Yisrael came into the sea on dry land, and the waters were a wall for them on their right and on their left” (Shemot 14:22). A very similar sentence is recorded later on: “UVnei Yisrael Halechu BaYabashah BeToch HaYam VeHaMayim Lahem Chomah MiyMinam UMiSemolam” “And Bnei Yisrael walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall for them on their right and on their left” (Shemot 14:29). Why is this information repeated? Additionally, in the second Pasuk the word Chomah is spelled without a Vav. The remaining letters (Chet Mem Hay) can also be read as “Cheimah,” meaning rage. The sea was angry at Bnei Yisrael for having worshipped idols, and it tried to drown them as well. Why does this allusion appear only in the second Pasuk? In addition, the first Pasuk states the coming “into the sea” before “the dry land”, while in the second Pasuk, the “dry land,” precedes “the sea.”
The Vilna Gaon explains that there were two different groups that stood in front of the Yam Suf. The first group consisted of those who had full Emunah in Hashem and trusted Him completely. They jumped into the Yam Suf even before it turned to dry land. However, the second group was made up of those who did not have complete faith in Hashem. They needed to wait for the sea to split and to see the dry land before they could plunge into the sea.
When Hashem decided to split the sea, the Malachim (angels) argued against Bnei Yisrael. They maintained that since there were those among Bnei Yisrael who worshipped idols, they should not be privileged to live while the Mitzrim, who also worshiped idols, were drowned in the sea. Hashem responded that in the merit of the faith in which they excelled, they deserved to have the sea split open for them.
Now we can explain the discrepancies between the two Pesukim. The first Pasuk refers to the group that had complete faith in Hashem, those who “came into the sea on dry land,” meaning while it was still sea. Hence, these people did not deserve the “rage” of the sea, so the word Choma is spelled with a Vav. On the other hand, the group that did not believe wholeheartedly in Hashem needed to wait for the sea to become dry land before plunging in. Therefore, they “walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.” As a result, the word Choma is spelled without a Vav to hint that the sea was enraged to split for this unworthy group.
We can learn a great lesson from the explanation of the Vilna Gaon. We should all strive to be counted among the first group, those who have complete Emunah in Hashem and will do whatever it takes to fulfill His commandments.
-Editor’s note: it is for this reason that 14:22 is sung with the special “Shirah tune” and 14:29 is not.