Road Rage at the Red Sea

Happy Passover, blog readers!

Have you ever wondered how the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea? The simple answer is on dry land, created by G-d’s miracle through Moses the prophet. But does that really explain anything?

Let’s picture the scene in more detail. The Hebrews, and we’re told they were numerous, have fled Egypt with their families, old and young, as many possessions and as much food as they could gather together at speed. There were probably some animals, maybe even carts, or perhaps wheelbarrows. They have come to the edge of the Red Sea and run out of land, never mind road. Do they queue up in an orderly line awaiting Moses’ miracle to enable them to cross? Unlikely.

In all probability, they were a milling mess, spreading out along the shore in both directions, in some areas crowded many bodies deep, in some areas standing solitary to peer out across the waves in the hope of spotting this promised land. So what happens when they hear the chariots of the Egyptian Army behind them and Moses raises his staff? Do they then re-group, line up with military precision? Unlikely again.

So how did they cross the Red Sea? Perhaps Moses created a bridge of dry land big enough for them all to walk abreast, but that’s certainly not how it’s shown in the paintings. Sure they were probably fine once between the towers of water on dry seabed. But before that? I imagine they were a seething, pushing, elbows-out, road-rage-driven, traffic jam. If you didn’t try to run round the edges and push ahead, then everyone probably cut in front of you, leaving the Egyptian warhorses nipping at your heels.

Or at least that’s the image that came to me last week as we sat queuing to get into the tunnel to Logan Airport in Boston, my aunt coming ever closer to missing her flight. Tunnels and bridges are often pinch-points, but in this case, behaviour played a part too. As if there were ancient, avenging Egyptians at their heels, car after car cut down the inside lane headed towards South Boston and then cut in at the last minute, pushing those waiting outside the tunnel ever further back in the queue, stationary and sweating.

And so, eventually, we had to do the same. With guilty conscience, we cut around, half wishing we’d done it earlier, half wishing we weren’t driven to being another of ‘those bastards’ as other drivers were probably swearing. My aunt had the barest half hour until her flight took off, and by the time she reached the gate, her ticket had been sold. She just managed to secure another empty seat at the back of the plane. Luckily it wasn’t oversold like the plane that made the news this week.

Yet it does make you wonder. Not only at the insanity of the design of the tunnels that access Logan Airport or the parallels that could be drawn between Boston’s peninsular, landfill airfields and the mooted Thames Estuary island airport, which would be likely even less accessible to the volumes of people it needs to serve. Nor necessarily solely at the challenges of modern driving with the limitations of GPS and traffic updates, which you expect will enable foresight and contingency planning, but often get you within a few miles of your destination, reporting a problem only when you are immovably stuck in it. No, it also makes you wonder at that ancient challenge, crossing the Red Sea, G-d’s people already risking G-d’s wrath with their own road rage long before the Golden Calf episode. Seems to me agetting across bodies of water was probably a problem even back then.

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