The Splitting of the Sea of Reeds, Leavened Food and Leavening, and Circumcision--from Rabbi Natan of Nemirov's Likutei Halachot
On Passover, two items are forbidden: chametz (leavened food) and s’or (leavening).
The mitzvah of circumcision consists of two stages: milah (removing the foreskin) and periah (removing the membrane underneath).
The mitzvah of circumcision corresponds to the nullification of chametz and s’or.
These are like “two clouds that cover the eyes.”…
This is related to the verse, “Rebuke the beast of the reed” (Psalms 68:31). The Zohar teaches that the word for “beast,” chayat, can be read as referring to the letter chet. The word “reed,” kaneh, can refer to the left vertical line in the letter chet [ח]. When we “rebuke” and break that vertical line in the letter chet, it turns into the letter hey [ה]. In the word chametz, if one turns the letter chet into a hey and rearranges the letters, one gets the word matzah (Zohar: Raya Mehemna, Parshat Pinchas).
In Likutei Moharan I 5, Rabbi Nachman teaches that a person should not allow his mind to grow “leavened” with lustful thoughts. He should rebuke and expel those thoughts: “rebuke the beast of the reed.” With this rebuke, he transforms chametz into matzah.
The word matzah can mean conflict, as in the phrase, “The tzaddikim engage in conflict against the Side of Evil so that it will not approach the holy tabernacle.”
Thus, chametz and s’or—which are the “beast of the reed”—indicate “leavening” one’s thoughts, heaven forbid. A person must rebuke these leavened thoughts and break them.
In the same way, milah and periah rectify the “covenant” (sexuality).
In this way, we nullify and remove the two clouds that cover the eyes. These clouds are the foreign thoughts that a person has while he is praying. They are chametz and s’or.
When a person rectifies the covenant, he rectifies these foreign thoughts, these clouds that cover the eye (Likutei Moharan I 2).
S’or is intense leavening. It corresponds to the foreskin, which is totally bad.
Chametz is not as intense. It corresponds to the membrane, which is a realm in which good and evil are mixed. It is alluded to in the verse, “And a halo around it” (Ezekiel 1:4). It corresponds to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The difference between chametz and matzah is very slight—the difference between a chet and a hey. It is very close to good, and so when that slight difference is broken it can be broken and turned into matzah. Matters weigh in the balance (as they do in the case of the halo, in the case of the Tree of Knowledge). Only a slight difference causes the scale to turn to one side or the other.
The difference between chametz and matzah is slight….
When we remove the foreskin and membrane, we “rebuke the beast of the reed.” We break the chet of the chametz and turn it into the hey of matzah.
That is related to holy consciousness (which corresponds to the letter hey) and to the letter hey that was added to the name of Abram so that he would be called Abraham—which occurred when he circumcised himself. With this, we “rebuke the beast of the reed.”
When we rectify the covenant, we “honor the face of the elder” (Leviticus 19:32). The word “elder” indicates “a person who has acquired wisdom” (Kiddushin 32b). The Hebrew for “acquired,” kanah, relates to kaneh, a person’s voice box. This indicates melody and song, which are perfected after a person rectifies the covenant. And kaneh also means “reed.” Thus, “acquiring wisdom,” “holy song” and the “reed” are all related. There is a holy reed and its opposite counterpart, a broken reed, which is a damaged covenant (heaven forbid). (See Likutei Moharan I 27).
When we remove the foreskin and membrane, we break “the beast of the reed.” We get rid of the broken reed. Even before it breaks, that reed is destined to be broken by the Jewish people, who “rebuke the beast of the reed.”
When that happens, the reed of wisdom, the voice box, is rectified. That comes about when a person rectifies the covenant.
And so when the Jews left Egypt, they all circumcised themselves, because that was the time of nullifying chametz and s’or.
The liberation from Egypt depends on leaving chametz for matzah. And so at that time they circumcised themselves, because that is how one nullifies chametz and s’or, the two clouds.
All of this touches upon the seventh day of Passover, the time of the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds.
This resulted from the dynamic of the rectification of the covenant. “The sea saw and fled” (Psalms 104:3). What did it see? The Sages state that it saw the coffin containing the bones of Joseph. Joseph was exemplary for having rectified the covenant. This is indicated by the verse, “He fled [Potiphar’s wife] and went outside” (Genesis 39:13).
The Splitting of the Sea corresponds to nullifying and breaking foreign thoughts, which are the clouds that cover the eyes, chametz and s’or.
There is a Sea of Wisdom. It has roads and pathways upon which one may go to attain wisdom. “He places a road in the sea and a pathway in the mighty waters” (Isaiah 43:16).
On the other hand, there are “depths of the sea” (from Tashlich), corresponding to the Sitra Achra, external thoughts, evil musings, the clouds that cover the eyes.
These “depths of the sea” cover the Sea of Wisdom and confuse the road and pathway in the Sea of Wisdom. We must break them and expel them, until the Sea of Wisdom is revealed, and we find the roads and pathways in the Sea of Wisdom that will make it possible for us to attain insights and awareness.
That is the meaning of the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds, of “He gives a road in the sea….”
In that sea, the Jews attained great states of awareness (as our Sages teach). And that resulted from the sea splitting—because the pouring, drenching “depths of the sea” were expelled—that being the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds. The splitting of this sea corresponds to “reed and rushes will be cut off” (Isaiah 19:6), to “rebuke the beast of the reed.”
This causes the roads of the sea of wisdom to be revealed.
And this Splitting of the Sea of Reeds came about as a result of the rectification of the covenant. The rectification of the mind and consciousness, expelling the depths of the sea, comes about through the rectification of the covenant. A person who attains the rectification of the covenant can expel the depths of the sea, his foreign thoughts and musings. That is the Splitting of the Red Sea, of “the sea saw [Joseph’s coffin] and fled.”
And so the Sea of Reeds split on the seventh day of Passover. That is the apex of the nullification of chametz and s’or. It is the last day of Passover, which marked the ultimate and complete nullification of chametz and s’or, such that from then on chametz was permissible. And that is the ultimate, total nullification of chametz: the evil “husk” of chametz and s’or is so nullified and ameliorated that it becomes entirely permissible. The evil has been entirely overcome and nullified until it comes back to being permissible.
And so that is when the Sea of Reeds split—because the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds is the equivalent of the nullification of chametz and s’or by means of rectifying the covenant, by means of circumcision. This corresponds to the phrase, “to divide the Sea of Reeds” (Pesachim 118a), in which the Hebrew for “divide” literally means “to cut”—the same word used in referring to cutting away the foreskin. That indicates the expulsion of the “depths of the sea.”
The Splitting of the Sea of Reeds, the splitting and removal of the membrane. The Splitting of the Sea of Reeds is the rectification brought about by the mitzvah of circumcision.
And so then the Jews sang the Song of the Sea. This is because, as a result of rectifying the covenant, song is rectified.
This is why on the day of a circumcision the mohel (the circumcisor) customarily sings the “Song of the Sea” as well as the piyut (liturgical poem), Yom Leyabashah—“On the Day [that the Sea Became] Dry Land.” This is because the “Song of the Sea” was revealed as a result of the dynamic of circumcision, which makes it possible for a person to attain the level of the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds and song.
And that explains the custom of throwing nuts and other food items when the baby is being circumcised (because certainly every custom has a heavenly root).
This alludes to the spoils that washed up at the Sea, which the Jews seized. We throw nuts and other food items so that the children will grab them. That alludes to the spoils at the sea that the Jews attained as a result of circumcision.
And so before the Jews crossed the Jordan River into the land of Israel—which also split for them, a miracle that was the equivalent of the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds—the men had to be circumcised.
The essence of the splitting of the water came about via the rectification of the mitzvah of milah. Earlier, under Moshe [and prior to the giving of the Torah], the Jews had performed only milah but not periah. But this time they performed periah as well.
In those days of Moshe, when the Jews did not perform the mitzvah of periah, the Splitting of the Red Sea was indeed “difficult” for God (Pesachim 118a), and they needed to make use of the merit of Abraham, Joseph and their like, who kept the mitzvah in its entirety, because “a person who has done milah but not periah is as though uncircumcised” (Shabbat 137b), because the essence of the drawing of energy of the Side of Evil comes through the “husk” of nogah, which corresponds to the periah.
Therefore, in a number of places the Torah warns more strongly against chametz than it does against s’or. That is because the essential thing is to destroy chametz, which corresponds to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the energy of nogah, of periah, via which we can nullify the ability of the Side of Evil to derive energy from holiness.
And so the Torah must write about both chametz and s’or, which correspond to milah and periah, because each one has a more intense aspect.
S’or is concentrated, total evil, and chametz is what the Side of Evil derives its energy from.
If the Torah had only forbidden chametz, one might have thought that it is forbidden because it is edible, whereas, since s’or is not at all edible, indicating that it cannot derive any energy from holiness, [it should be permitted].
On the other hand, if the Torah had only forbidden s’or, one might have thought that since chametz corresponds to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—and is thus edible, because it is a mixture of good and evil—it can be eaten and purified.
But that is why it is particularly forbidden, because due to this fact the Side of Evil can derive energy from holiness. And so the principal connection of the realm of evil is to the letter chet in the word chametz, because the principal matter is to break chametz, which is the principal means via which the Side of Evil derives its energy.
Likutei Halachot: Chol Hamoed 1:1-2
Yaacov David Shulman