Stable Instability

Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and the sea turned into dry ground
— Exodus 14:21

The last days of Passover can seem anticlimactic, given that the Seder/s are already "passed over." And yet, it is on these last days that we re-create the crossing of the sea, arguably the eleventh plague for the Egyptians who pursued the Israelites and the final and most spectacular miracle of our redemption. On the last days of Passover, we read the Torah portion about crossing the sea and cannot help but notice a biblical refrain that gives the narrative the feeling of a momentous song: "the sea on the dry ground." This expression is chanted with a different musical notation that alerts us to pay attention and be swept away musically, much the way our ancestors were in the heady moment of a final act of freedom. We begin with the verse above and then continue with the verses below:
"The waters were split, and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left." (14:22)
The Israelites marched through the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left." (14:29)
"For the horses of Pharaoh, with his chariots and horsemen, went into the sea; and the Lord turned back on them the waters of the sea, but the Israelites marched on dry ground in the midst of the sea." (15:19)
Many biblical books later, when we crossed the Jordan, instead of the Reed Sea, we find a repeated image of dry land in the midst of the sea. God told Joshua to command the priests transporting twelve stones representing the tribes across the Jordan to come out of the water, after the Israelites had already crossed: "the feet of the priests stepped onto the dry ground and the waters of the Jordan resumed their course, flowing over its entire bed as before" (Joshua 4:18).
This expression can simply highlight the miraculous nature of the event: the astonishing fact that we could go through water on dry land. This contradiction is not unlike other plagues that had opposing natural forces in combination, like the hail that contained fire. This would surely augment the miracle capacity within each miracle. But perhaps there is something deeper that the text wants to draw us to with this expression and its repetition, and to understand it we must find other places where sea and dry land appear together.
We turn no further than the very first chapter of the Hebrew Bible: "God said, 'Let the water below the sky be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear.' And it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters, He called seas. And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:9). Sea and dry land, once a singular unit, was separated in the creation of two distinct earthly topographies. Later, Noah's raven, the one he sent out on a search expedition to know if he could release his family and the animals he stewarded, "went to and fro until the waters had dried up from the land" (Genesis 8:6). But the process of the earth drying took much time: "the waters began to dry from the earth; and when Noah removed the covering of the ark, he saw that the surface of the ground was drying. And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh of the month, the earth was dry" (Genesis 8:13-14). It was then that God told Noah it was time to leave the ark. Earth and water had to be separated and distinct yet again for a new and improved universe to emerge.
In the book of Jonah, a prophetic maritime adventure, the sailors on the ship Jonah boarded wanted clues to his identity that would explain why the storm around them was so treacherous. Jonah summed up his identity in a curious phrase: "I am a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, God of the heavens, who made sea and dry land" (Jonah 1:9). Later, this same God had created a fish to swallow Jonah and then, after Jonah prayed and reconciled himself with his mission, "it spewed Jonah out upon dry land" (Jonah 2:11).
An ark and a fish are images of dry land within water. They are containers, much like Moses' basket on the Nile, that served as temporary modes of protection against the dangers of the sea. They were, metaphorically speaking, the dry land amidst the sea. Psychologically one can argue that they provided stability in an inherently unstable place. God, Jonah's God, is both the God of dry land and the sea. He, too, is a place - Makom - of stability in a world of instability, a spiritual anchor in chaos. Redemption is predicated on our capacity to make ourselves temporarily unstable for the sake of greater stability.
When we repeat the almost incomprehensible refrain - the sea on dry ground - we are invited not only to experience wonder at the miracle but to take risks to make miracles happen. Had we not taken those initial steps into the water, the water wouldn't have parted. We make miracles when we are prepared to trust that nothing is truly stable. The best we can hope for is a stable instability, that keeps us both strong and vulnerable in an exquisite balance. The American marital arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said, "If you want to learn to swim, jump in the water. On dry land, no frame of mind is ever going to help you."
Sometimes we crave stability too much. You want to make miracles? Jump. 
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover!