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The verses describing the splitting of the Yam Suf (Reed Sea) say a strong wind blew overnight before the sea split. To me, this implies a gradual process of moving a great deal of water.

On the other hand, we have midrashim which imply it was a suddenly occuring phenomenon, saving Nachshon from drowning. Also, the verses say Moshe stretched out his staff and the sea split in response.

If it was a miraculous, quick transition from sea to dry land, what was the strong wind for? Or am I interpreting it wrong?

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I've always imagined it as being like a runner who runs in place at the starting line and then takes off when the starting gun is fired -- that the wind is some form of preparation for the split, not the beginning of the split. Just my own speculation (hence the comment). – Monica Cellio Feb 5 '12 at 0:36
@msh210 "Time" ? – Double AA Feb 5 '12 at 4:10
@DoubleAA, the question's about sudden versus gradual. – msh210 Feb 5 '12 at 4:29
up vote 5 down vote accepted

R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi (in Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 2) says:

שהוליך ה׳ את הים ברוח קדים עזה כל הלילה ויבקעו המים, ונצבו כמו נד וכחומה. ואילו הפסיק ה׳ את הרוח, כרגע היו המים חוזרים ונגרים במורד כדרכם וטבעם, ולא קמו כחומה, בלי ספק

"For then, G‑d drove back the sea by a strong east wind all the night, and the waters were split and not merely ceased their flow, but stood upright as a wall. If G‑d had stopped the wind, the waters would have instantly flowed downward, as is their way and nature, and undoubtedly they would not have stood upright like a wall."

In other words, the splitting indeed occurred at a single moment, but then the wind had to continue blowing in order to prevent the water from crashing back down.

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This is very similar to the explanation of Abarbanel, who fits in the two separate miracles (water splitting and strong wind blowing) with "הָרֵם אֶת מַטְּךָ וּנְטֵה אֶת יָדְךָ עַל הַיָּם וּבְקָעֵהוּ". In other words, "lift your staff" into the air to bring forth the wind, and "stretch out your hand over the sea and split it" referring to just Moshe's hand itself without the staff to incite the miracle of the sea splitting. – jake Feb 5 '12 at 3:33
wasn't the whole thing miraculous? even the most powerful hurricane winds have never been observed to do this today. and why didnt everyone get blown away? – ray Apr 24 '14 at 13:37

I suggest that the purpose of the wind was so that people who chose to doubt the miraculous nature of the splitting had something with which to rationalize it.

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Is this the same or a different answer from "to minimize the miracle"? – avi Feb 5 '12 at 7:47
@avi I suppose it's pretty similar. This just says why you would want to do so. – Double AA Feb 5 '12 at 14:15
Rav Dessler also says this in michtav m'eliyahu. likewise he explains the shofar blasting in the walls of jericho and the sprouting of samson's hair before he is given back superhuman strength. – ray Apr 24 '14 at 13:33
and so it is for everything including life – m.r. Feb 1 at 13:11

The overnight wind can have been sent to miraculously prepare for the splitting later.

See Revach for a list of the miracles involved in the Splitting of the Sea. I was told in a shiur that the overnight wind served (amongst other things) to raise the level of the sea floor (miracle 15 in the list). But the actual splitting occurred when they were in up to their nostrils (according to this source, miracle 5 in the list).

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The Netziv in his sefer Meromei Sadeh here in his explanation of the Tosafos in Sotah 37a, explains that there was a dispute between the tribe of Yehudah and Binyamin about the best way to glorify Hashem’s name with the splitting of the sea.

Yehudah held that it was better to wait and let the strong wind continue to gradually dry the sea and this would demonstrate to the world that nature was in the hand of Hashem, and thus His name would be glorified.

Binyamin however held that changing the laws of nature by having the sea split suddenly would best glorify His name, and therefore they jumped into the sea in order to force it to split, since Yehudah wanted to wait it out.

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