Shevi'i Shel Pesach

The 7th of Pesach, The Crossing of the Sea and the Song of the Sea

Even if we were all wise, all understanding and knowledgeable of the Torah, it is still a mitzvah to relate the story of the Exodus from Egypt. (Pesach Haggadah)

The intent of the Haggadah is not just the story itself. The story is already well-known to all and is written down in many places. It doesn't require so much wisdom just to tell the story.

Rather, the point is that one is obliged to tell the story in such a way that he himself feels, and makes others feel that they are indeed in the process of leaving Egypt and getting ready to go through the Sea. One must feel the joy and the freedom in his soul as if he is really leaving Egypt for good.

(R' Tzaddok HaCohen of Lublin, Sefer Pri Tzaddik)

Pesach is an auspicious time for Parnossa (Livelihood). Israel went out of Egypt into the desolate desert of Sinai with no visible means of sustenance. They went only with their faith in Hashem intact. And he did in fact sustain them. For this reason the world is judged at Pesach on the grain. (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:1) This is also in line with the saying of the Rabbis, "A person's Parnossa is as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea." (Tractate Pesachim 118a) (Chiddushei HaRim)

The Song of the Sea is A Lesson in How to be Always Joyous

"Then Moshe and B'nai Yisrael sang this Song (of the Sea) etc. (Oz Yashir Moshe . . .)" (Shemos 15:1)

There is an remarkable Midrash in Shemos Rabboh which will help us to understand the extraordinary nature of the Shira (inspired Song of praise) that B'nai Yisrael sang at the Sea. Here is the Midrash:

"She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." (Proverbs 31, from Eishes Chayil) From the day that Hashem created the world, until the day that Israel stood at the banks of the Sea, nobody ever sang Shira (inspired Song of praise) for Hashem. He created Adam, but he never sang Shira. He saved Avraham from the fiery furnace, and from the warring Kings, but he didn't sing Shira. He spared Yitzchok from the knife of the Akeida and he didn't sing Shira. Yaacov was saved from Esav's angel, from Esav himself, and from the men of Shechem and still he didn't sing Shira. When Yisrael came to the Sea and it split for them, they immediately sang Shira to Hashem, as it is written, "(Oz Yashir Moshe . . .) Then Moshe and B'nai Yisrael sang this Song (of the Sea) etc. "She opens her mouth with wisdom. . . ." Said Hashem, "This is what I have waited for!" For the word Oz denotes only joy as it is written, "(Oz) Then our mouths will be filled with laughter." (Psalms 126:2) (Midrash Shemos Rabboh 23:4)

This Midrash requires some explanation. The common translation of the word "Oz" is "then". The Midrash precedes itself with a verse in order to define the word "Oz".

What wisdom can there be in just opening the mouth? A parable can help us. When a person appears before a King and wants to thank him for some favor he received, he doesn't just open his mouth and say the first words that come into his head. Just the opposite is true. The person will carefully prepare his words first, deciding what he wants to say; all in deference to the honor of the King. Then he will rehearse the speech until he is able to express himself intelligently and fluently before the monarch. This is the way of a person who feels indebted to the King and must show his gratitude and honor.

The Song (Shira) of B'nai Yisrael was qualitatively different. When the source of the Shira is a deep, abounding love for the King and a realization that the King has showed him special favor, then there is no holding back, no time to prepare one's thoughts. The words gush forth unrestrained with a sense of urgency in an attempt to capture the moment of enlightenment and elation.

So too with B'nai Yisrael. When they came through the Sea they immediately broke into Shira (Song); they opened their mouths and spontaneously began to sing. Even though it was spontaneous, the Midrash testifies, "She opens her mouth with wisdom. . ." The song that came forth was full of wisdom, perfectly and eloquently expressed by each member of B'nai Yisrael. So profound and recondite was the Shira, that it was included in the Torah.

Still, the source of B'nai Yisrael's great inspiration needs to be more carefully examined. The end of the Midrash provides a clue. "For the word Oz denotes only joy as it is written, "(Oz) Then our mouths will be filled with laughter." (Psalms 126:2) The Shira of B'nai Yisrael was inspired by complete, flawless joy. The word "Oz" is now more accurately translated as "because" instead of "then". B'nai Yisrael sang their Shira because of the great joy they experienced after crossing the Sea.

Nevertheless, the Avos did sing Shira! Adam sang "Mizmor Shir L'yom HaShabbos. . ." (Psalms 92). Avraham sang "Maskil L'Eitan HaEzrachi. . ." (Psalms 89). Yaacov sang the 15 Chapters of "Shir HaMa'alos" (Psalms 120-134) (see Midrash Bereishis Rabboh 74:8) Why does the Midrash say that no one sang Shira until B'nai Yisrael sang at the Sea?

The Shira of the Avos was not like that of B'nai Yisrael. The joy when they sang their Shira was different. The Avos experienced an obstacle or difficulty (Tzara), and Hashem provided them with relief. Nevertheless, they knew that the difficulties they experienced would be experienced later by their progeny. (Ma'aseh Avos Siman l'Banim) They weren't fully able to rejoice over the relief when they knew that the difficulty and it's full consequences were still to be felt. When B'nai Yisrael came through the Sea they experienced a complete simchah. They fully understood the experience of servitude in Egypt and all of it's ramifications. They understood that the period of servitude was an integral part of the redemption. Experiencing the full providence of Hashem and vanquishing any doubts as to His utter kindness, is a source of profound joy. It is the ultimate joy known to a living person.

This explains the doubled use of Go'oh Go'oih (Hashem is most exalted) (Shemos 15:2, from the Shira). One time refers to the Exodus and it's accompanying freedom. The other refers to the period of the servitude. Even for that, they understood that Hashem is to be exalted. As it is written, "Hodu L'Hashem Ki Tov, Ki L'olam Chasdo". Praise Hashem for He is good, His Kindness is forever. (Psalms 136:1, also in Shabbos morning prayers)

R' Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Apter Rov said that the purpose of the creation is that man should be happy with Hashem and at peace with His ways. The Shira of B'nai Yisrael was rooted in abundant and profound joy. It is the joy a Jew knows when he is happy and satisfied with Hashem. It means he understands that everything, no matter how it appears on the surface, is from Hashem and it is absolute Chesed. That is the level B'nai Yisrael reached at the Sea. They understood the whole episode of their enslavement in Egypt and the ensuing Exodus in context and it now made perfect sense.

This explains the saying of Chazal, "Anyone who says Shira every day, will merit to say it before Hashem in the world to come." (Tractate Sanhedrin 91b) One who is able to say Shira every day the way B'nai Yisrael said it at the Sea, is one who already understands that everything comes from Hashem and it is all Chesed. This is the truth that everyone will understand in the world to come. Happy is the one who is capable of this understanding while still in this physical world.

This is the significance of Shira that Hashem declared, "This is what I have waited for!"

(Based on Tiferes Tzion on Midrash Rabboh; Nesivos Shalom on Shevi'i Shel Pesach; Noam Elimelech, Parshas Beshalach; Divrei Yisrael (Modjitz), Parshas Beshalach)

By His Hand Alone

"Who split the Sea into divisions, His Kindness is forever." (Psalm 136:13 also in Shabbos morning prayers)

In a verdant valley surrounded by tall mountains lived a Jew by thname of R' Itcheh (Yitzchok) . He lived alone in a mud and grass hut and eked out a meager living growing a few basic necessities. His homestead was far away from the nearest village and he had no contact with any other Jews.

One day an elegant carriage drawn by fine horses pulled up in front of the hut of R' Itcheh. It was R' Mordechai of Chernobyl, know as the patron of the Lamed-Vav (36) Tzaddikim. He had come to give R' Itcheh a gift to improve his financial situation. But R' Itcheh would not hear from it. "By the sweat of his brow a man will eat bread", he quoted. (Genesis 3:19)

"You are only fulfilling the first half of the verse", declared R' Mordechai. "Your rocky land doesn't even provide you with the barest necessities."

"Nevertheless", demurred R' Itcheh, "Doesn't it say, 'By the work of your hands you shall eat, happy are you and good it your lot?" (Psalms 128:2)

"Still you are only fulfilling the first half of the verse", countered R' Mordechai "The second half you've still to fulfill properly."

"It is not right to divide the verse up into two parts", replied R' Itcheh. "Doesn't it also say (Tractate Pesachim 118a) 'A person's Parnossa is as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea'? Nachson ben Aminadav went into the Sea until the water was up to his nostrils, took a deep breath and kept on going. Only then the sea split for him. So too is the endeavor necessary for earning a livelihood. A person must toil, and in the end Parnossa comes from above."

"Exactly", agreed R' Mordechai. "And I am a messenger from Hashem Himself, sent to bring about the miracle of your Parnossa."

"No, no", replied R' Itcheh, "The miracle of my Parnossa is not destined to come like this. Is it not written, 'The one who despises gifts shall live'?" (Proverbs 15:28)

"Do you think that I am giving you from my own money!? Everything comes from the Creator. His is the silver and the gold, His is the earth and all the produce upon it. We are simply his children for whom He must provide."

"That's right", informed R' Itcheh, "I am a son of the Creator and will wait for my Father to provide my sustenance Himself!"

In the end R' Itcheh prevailed. He didn't accept anything, and R' Mordechai returned home incredulous.

The Festival of Pesach was approaching. In the home of R' Itcheh there wasn't even the slightest evidence of provisions for the Festival. The wheat had not sprouted in the fields that year, and the potatoes had rotted. R' Mordechai of Chernobyl expected any day to received a request from R' Itcheh for Pesach supplies, but R' Itcheh was too absorbed in his holy labor to worry about what he would eat on Pesach. He continued in his work as if Pesach was still months away.

In the meantime, the spring thaws came, the snow melted and the roads turned to mire. The rivers became muddy torrents and overflowed their banks and the small farm of R' Itcheh became an island of mud. Any access to the rest of the province was cut off.

R' Mordechai of Chernobyl was inconsolable. The condition of R' Itcheh was intolerable for him. He called for the horses to be harnessed to his carriage and filled it with all manner of good things for Pesach; Matzo, wine, meat, fish and vegetables, and immediately set out on the road in the direction of R' Itcheh's homestead.

The horse strained bravely through the mud and water. As they ascended higher in the mountains the water on the road turned to ice which cracked under the of the horses' hoofs; the sound echoing throughout the valleys below.

"Rebbi", called out the driver, "We will surely drown in the river, we can't possibly cross!" R' Mordechai however refused to stop. "Continue on. . .even if we drown", he answered unflinchingly. "When Bnei Yisrael came to the Sea, they had no choice but to go straight in. Only when they sacrificed themselves and walked into the water, did the Sea split and allow them to cross on dry land. We also have no choice. We must reach R' Itcheh, and save him from starvation."

And miracle after miracle occurred until they managed to cross the surging river and pull through the mud until at last they arrived at the hut of R' Itcheh. "Stop!", cried R' Mordechai. "Here we will celebrate the Festival of Pesach this year." He went into the hut to greet R' Itcheh, his arms laden with all the food for the Festival. "Ah Gut Yontiv, Ah Gut Yontiv!!", he cried out .

"You win", said R' Itcheh dryly. "It was certainly due to your curse that my wheat didn't sprout this year and the potatoes rotted."

"No, I didn't win at all", said R' Mordechai. "Your requests have simply been realized. You asked Hashem to help you and here is the help you asked for."

"That's right", sighed R' Itcheh in resignation. "When you told me that Parnossa comes miraculously like the Splitting of the Sea, I understood that a miracle like that would soon one day occur to me!"



Email Any Questions? Comments?

Sponorships are Now Available.
Honor the memory of a Loved One or
Celebrate a Special Occasion
by dedicating an issue of Parsha Insights!