Sunday, February 04, 2007

Let Us Sing Shirah

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Beshalach recounts the dramatic climax to the story of Bnei Yisroel’s enslavement in Mitzrayim: the magnificent, much longed-for exodus of the Jewish people.

After being subjected to inhumane torture, slavery and degradation, Yaakov’s grandchildren were finally set free by the hard-hearted Paroh who had obstinately clung to his legions of slave laborers until he could defy G-d no longer.

He relented, but seeing that the Bnei Yisroel were not returning to his clutches, he quickly changed his mind and chased after the fleeing Jews into the desert. Some Jews were worried and cried out to Hashem and to Moshe to return them to Miztarayim; they weren’t prepared to die in a desert.

Hashem reassured them that this was the final test and their redemption was just around the corner. He commanded Moshe to raise his staff over the water, the sea split and the Jews marched through it on dry land to freedom. Hashem then told Moshe to wave his staff at the rapidly approaching army of Paroh. The water returned to its natural state, enveloping and drowning the marauding Egyptians. They were never heard from again.

Upon seeing their tormentors washed up dead on the side of the sea, the Bnei Yisroel were overcome with an all-encompassing faith in G-d and Moshe.

They raised their voices in shirah, praise, and uttered the prophetically inspired, immortal words of Az Yoshir, which we recite each morning in our tefillos.

The Medrash (23:4) states that this was the first time since creation that people sang a shirah to Hashem. What was so special about the miracle of the splitting of the sea which caused the Jewish people to break out in song in a way they never had before? Why didn’t Adam say shirah on the day of creation? Why didn’t Avrohom say shirah when he was saved from the kivshon ha’eish? Why didn’t Yosef say shirah when he was saved from the Egyptian jail? Why didn’t Yaakov say shirah when he came to Mitzrayim and met his son Yosef, alive and well, serving as a ruler of Mitzrayim?

The Mechiltah states that what transpired at the splitting of the sea was so momentous that simple maidservants present at Kriyas Yam Suf witnessed manifestations of G-d’s greatness that surpassed the inspired visions of the greatest prophets in Klal Yisroel. What is it that they saw which the neviim didn’t?

Chazal say, “Kasha zivugon shel adam k’Kriyas Yam Suf,” it is as difficult for G-d to find shidduchim for people as it was for Him to split the Red Sea. How are we to understand this? What can possibly be difficult for an omnipotent, omniscient G-d who created heaven and earth and is infinite and all-knowing?

The shira which burst forth from the souls of the Jewish people, from the water carriers to Moshe Rabbeinu, was a result of their realization that they were witness to the unprecedented fulfillment of a Divine prophecy. As the posuk states in Parshas Va’eirah, “And I appeared to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov with my name Keil Shakay, but did not reveal my name Hashem to them.” Rashi explains the verse to mean that Hakadosh Boruch Hu made several promises to the avos but had not yet fulfilled them.

The makkos which G-d was about to unleash upon Mitzrayim were the forerunner of the realization of the Divine promises delivered to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. The plagues began the process which ended with the departure through the sea, one step ahead of Paroh and his army.

When the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov saw the bodies of their Mitzri oppressors cast about on the beaches of the Yam Suf, they erupted in elated song, for they realized that they had witnessed the completion of the Divine promise as delivered to their forefathers. They saw that every word that Hashem had promised the avos had now come true and their souls burst forth with inspired song, shira.

This was the first time in history that the Jewish people had seen the Divine plan play out in a concrete fashion, right in front of their very eyes. Other prophets foresaw what would happen, but they themselves were never privileged to see their vision come to fruition. Avrohom had been saved from Nimrod’s inferno and Yosef from the pit, but the joy they experienced was not born of witnessing the full majesty of G-d’s sovereignty, but rather the experience of personal salvation.

The collective experience of shira as expressed at the Yam Suf was a singular one, which transpires very infrequently during human history. We believe in the word of G-d and the messages of his prophets, but the privilege of witnessing the full revelation of G-d’s greatness in all its glory is granted only in very rare instances.

Chazal derive that there will be techiyas hameisim from the words “Az yoshir,” because at that future time, “az,” then, once again we will all be able to look back and recognize that we have witnessed the full-blown realization of Divine prophecy.

This interpretation sheds light on the words of Chazal that it is as difficult for Hashem to match up a shidduch as it is to split the Yam Suf. Every prospective bride and groom has a vision of a life partner that hovers in their mind’s eye. They search to find the one individual who fits the image. Few people are willing to compromise on that vision.

This is the difficulty, k’vayachol, for Hashem. He has to be able to convince people that the one he has designated for them ever since their earliest days is indeed the person of their dreams. In order for the match to work, G-d has to be able to open the hearts and minds of the couple to be able to recognize the dreamed-of image in the spouse G-d intended for them.

Just as at Krias Yam Suf everyone appreciated that they were witnessing the realization of a Divine prophecy, so too, a chosson and kallah must be able to perceive the unfolding of Hashem’s plan in their own union.

When that occurs and their eyes and hearts are opened to the point that they recognize the Divine blessing in bringing them together, they erupt in simcha and shira and agree to become chosson and kallah.

This is why when the Novi prophesizes the imminent coming of the much-awaited Moshiach, he does so with the allegory of the joy experienced by a chosson and kallah. Yirmiyahu Hanovi stated those words we sing so often without thinking into them. “Od yishama b’arei Yehudah u’vechutzos Yerushalayim kol sasson vekol simcha kol chosson vekol kallah…”

Referring to the day when Moshiach will arrive and bring with him the ultimate simcha, Yirmiyahu uses the metaphor of the joyous outbreak of elation experienced by a bride and groom. That is because the chosson and kallah’s jubilant discovery of one another mirrors the profound exhilaration of comprehending G-d’s plan.

The chosson and kallah, at the height of their celebration, are akin to the maidservant at Kriyas Yam Suf, for they have experienced the soaring inspiration of witnessing G-d’s plan and prophecy in its fruition.

There is no joy like that of seeing the actualization of G-d’s promise, with everything that has transpired until that point coming into clear focus and granting more meaning than we ever thought possible.

With the arrival of Moshiach, a great light will shine upon the souls of each and every one of us and we will all celebrate joyfully like a chosson and kallah. Our souls will expand and we will comprehend all that has transpired to us and to mankind throughout the ages, all culminating with this earthshaking, defining moment.

“Az.” At that moment we will all break out in an unprecedented shira. With hearts overflowing with gratitude and love, we will dance about as a chosson beyom chupaso, as a kallah beyom chupasa, because the light of G-d will have shone upon us and opened up our hearts.

The gates of our minds and souls will be radiant with the ohr chodosh; the wondrousness and majesty of it all will be revealed, b’meheirah b’yomeinu. Amein.

As we go through life, there are things that happen to us whose meanings are not readily apparent. People sometimes question why this happens and why that happens, and we don’t always have the answers. But we continue to sing Az Yoshir every day for we know that one day soon, the G-d who revealed himself to our forefathers and promised to redeem their children from the darkness of Mitzrayim will cause us to burst forth in shira once again as He delivers us from the darkness which currently envelops us. At that time, all the questions will be answered. The darkness will turn to light, the sadness to glee. We will sing as we march behind Moshiach and Moshe Rabbeinu through that which encircles and attempts to drown us, into the Promised Land, b’meheirah b’yomeinu. Amein.


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