“So the graduations hang on the wall /
But they never really helped us at all /
No they never taught us what was real /
Iron and coke, chromium steel.” Billy Joel, Allentown
In Moses’ Song of the Sea, a part of the daily Jewish liturgy, there is also a curious metallic reference regarding the drowning Egyptians:
“Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters.” Exodus 15:10
Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) makes an even more interesting comment regarding lead (‘oferet’ in Hebrew).
“From the word ‘ofar’ (dirt/ground in Hebrew – same letter roots), because the six types of metals, if they are placed in the ground, they will be diminished, but lead, will increase.”
In the ancient world, the six other types of metals were as follows:
- Liquid silver (Mercury)
Lead is the heaviest naturally occurring element. So it is no surprise for Moses to compare the quickly sinking Egyptians to this heavy metal. Hizkuni however adds another angle by showing another difference between lead and other metals.
According to Hizkuni, these other metals when buried or sunken will eventually corrode, decompose or lose from their original mass, at a known rate, thereby becoming lighter. I believe this was due to chemical reactions with the elements of the ground. This would probably not occur as easily with many modern alloys.
Lead on the other hand attracts elements of the ground to itself, thereby becoming more massive and heavier. So too, the Egyptians were destined not only to sink, but to stay sunken forever.
May we, as opposed to the Egyptian army, rise up and stay light.
To my father, and the many other metal traders, miners and explorers out there.
To Matan and Ruti Nachmani on the birth of their bechor, Avinoam, and to Gabi and Tova Leah Nachmani for this first grandchild. May they all have tremendous yiddishe nachas.