We say in Tefillas Maariv

בוקע ים לפני משה

that the sea split before Moshe.

Why does it say "lifnei Moshe" (in front of Moshe) wasn't it lifnei (in front of) all of Klal Yisrael (the Jews)?

  • 3
    +1. I should have thought of this question every evening but somehow never have.
    – msh210
    Apr 3, 2013 at 15:47
  • 1
    FTR Sefaradim don't have this in Arvit. Apr 4, 2013 at 3:27

3 Answers 3


Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi (the "Alter Rebbe" of Lubavitch) asks this question (Mamarey Admur Hazaken 5565 vol. 1 pg. 238) and explains as follows: "Moshe" here refers not to the individual by that name, but rather the level called "Moshe" that is present in every Jew. The discourse explains that on a superficial level, the Jewish people were considered lower than the sea, and it would not split for them. It was specifically due to this "spark of Moshe" contained in every Jewish soul - representing the "penimyos"; the deepest and highest levels of the soul - that the Jews are considered higher than the sea, and caused it to split.

This idea is further developed by the Rebbe Maharash (Likkutey Torah Toras Shmuel 5631 vol. 1 pg. 157) who connects it to what is explained in Tanya Chapter 42 (english link): In Parshas Eikev (Devarim 10:12) Moshe asks the Jewish people, "And now, Israel, what does the L‑rd your G‑d require of you? Only that you fear the L‑rd your G‑d.” The Gemara (Brochas 33b, Megillah 25a) asks: “Is fear, then, such a small thing?” How could Moshe say that "all Hashem asks for" is for us to fear him; attaining fear of G-d is no simple feat! Answers the Gemara: “Yes, in the case of Moshe it is a small thing.”

At first glance the answer of the Gemara is incomprehensible, for the verse asks, “What does Hashem require of you?” — i.e., What does G‑d require of every Jew? For the majority of Jews, fear of G‑d is certainly no mean accomplishment. What, then, is the point of answering that for Moshe it is a simple thing? Chassidus therefore explains that the answer of the Gemara does not refer to Moses alone, but to the “Moshe” which is found in every Jew. When a Jew utilizes the power of Moshe found within him, then fear of G‑d is indeed a simple thing and easy to attain.

  • Very nice answer al pi chassidus. If you could update with a link to the Sefer Tanya in Hebrew only that would help!)
    – Yehoshua
    Apr 4, 2013 at 9:08

If it said בוקע ים מפני משה we would easily understand it to mean that the sea split in response to Moshe (and his staff).

As it is, it says לפני not מפני but perhaps the meaning is similar.


DISCLAIMER: I'm not Ashkenazi and so I am not overly familiar with the Ashkenazi prayer service. While the printed version of the siddur of Amram Gaon makes mention of the differences and their sources in the Gemarra I couldn't find anything particular there on why it is written that way. So I'm going to fall back onto Kabbalistic and Chassidic sources. As it says here HaShem's intent was to demonstrate his Kingdom by means of the Navi(Moshe Rabbeinu) here they bring the relevant portions of the Zohar that Moshe Rabbeinu was the agency through which the Malchut of HaShem was able to extend into the earth(at that point). The Sephat Emet commenting on the Shemot Rabbah 19:7 says that the reason it had to be through Moshe Rabbeinu and not all of Klal Yisrael was because Klal Yisrael's understanding of their relationship with HaShem was still imperfect, specifically they did not realize that they were children of HaShem.(sources in the Sephat Emet שנת תרל"ג ד"ה 'במדרש', שנת תר"מ ד"ה 'כתוב במדרש', שנת תרמ"ה ד"ה 'בפסוק', שנת תרמ"ו ד"ה 'בעניין', שנת תרמ"ז ד"ה 'אז ישיר משה', שנת תרנ"ד ד"ה 'כתיב', שנת תרנ"ט ד"ה 'בענין', ושנת תרס"ד ד"ה 'בפסוק')

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