Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Beshalach: The Song by the Sea and the Principles of Faith
This Torah Attitude is dedicated by Michael & Sally Deverett & family in loving memory of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, Rosh HaYeshiva, the founder & visionary behind Aish HaTorah, who was nifter yesterday 10 Shvat, 5769.
G'd delivered a final blow to the Egyptian army, drowning everyone in the Red Sea, when the walls of water came crashing down upon them. The Jewish people reached a new higher level of awe of G'd, rather than just fearing G'd's punishment. The Jewish people did not listen to Moses due to Pharaoh's harsh new decrees after Moses came down to Egypt. When the Egyptians pursued them, the Jewish people calmed down and listened to Moses. "G'd is not looking for our accomplishments. He is looking for our struggle in overcoming our challenges." If we say the Song by the Sea with happiness, this will help us to achieve forgiveness for our sins. The Song by the Sea allows us to rise to a purer feeling of complete faith in the Almighty Who provided us with the salvation then. If we analyze the Song by the Sea, we will find that 11 of the Rambam's 13 basic principles are alluded to in this special song. When the Jewish people experienced the final destruction of the Egyptian army, and saw their own miraculous salvation, they reached a zenith in their faith in G'd. Just as the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their faith in G'd, so will we be redeemed from our exile in the merit of our faith in G'd.
In this week's Parasha, the Torah relates how G'd miraculously saved the Jewish people from the pursuing Egyptians by splitting the sea for them. G'd utilized this event to deliver a final blow to the Egyptian army, drowning everyone in the Red Sea when the walls of water came crashing down upon them. All this had a tremendous impact on the Jewish people, as it says (Shemos 14:31): "And Israel saw the great Hand that G'd inflicted upon Egypt, and the people were in awe of G'd, and they had faith in G'd and in His servant Moses."
Higher level of awe
This raises a question. When the Torah states at this point that the people had fear of G'd and believed in Him, it implies that this was a new development. The Or Hachaim comments that it is obvious that they had been G'd fearing till now as well. However, the Torah refers to the fact that the Jewish people had reached a new higher level of awe of G'd, rather than just fearing G'd's punishment. But in regards to their trust in G'd our question remains, for the Torah already informed us, when Moses came down to Egypt, that they believed in G'd. As it says (Shemos 4:31): "And the people believed and they heard that G'd remembered the Children of Israel."
However, if we analyze this situation a little closer we find that the Jewish people had somewhat lost their faith in G'd. In the beginning of Parashas Va'Eira, G'd instructed Moses to tell them that He was aware of their difficult situation, and that He was going to redeem them. But this time they did not listen to Moses. This was due to the harsh new decrees that Pharaoh instituted after Moses came down to Egypt. These new decrees proved to be too much for them, as it says (Shemos 6:9): "And Moses said so to the Children of Israel, and they did not listen to Moses because of shortness of breath and hard work."
There is no doubt that the ten plagues helped to restore the Jewish people's faith. But when the Egyptians pursued them, they were again faced with a major challenge. It seemed like every time things were getting better, it became difficult again. But this time, they reacted very different. After their initial shock, they started praying to G'd. As it says (Shemos 14:10): "And the Children of Israel cried out to G'd." And although they complained to Moses that they would have stayed and worked in Egypt, rather than to die in the wilderness (see ibid 12), when Moses spoke to them and said (see ibid 13-14) "Do not fear … G'd will fight for you and you shall be silent", they calmed down and listened to him.
This is what the Torah teaches us when it says that they had faith in G'd. At this point the Jewish people had reached such a high level of faith in G'd and in Moses that even when they were challenged they did not lose their faith. It went so far that when Moses told the Jewish people, in the name of G'd, to go ahead and travel right into the Sea, they still listened to him. But why did G'd keep challenging them? We may find the answer in the famous saying of one of the great Chassidic leaders, Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk. He used to say: "G'd is not looking for our accomplishments. He is looking for our struggle in overcoming our challenges." This is a most important lesson that we must internalize. If we can learn to live with this awareness, it changes our outlook on our lives, both on a personal and a communal level.
Song by the Sea
When the Jewish people reached this high level of faith, they joined Moses in praising G'd with the Song by the Sea. We repeat this special song every morning at the end of Pesukei D'zimrah. The Mishnah Berurah (51:17) quotes from the Zohar that when we say this song, we should be in a state of happiness. We should actually feel as if we ourselves are experiencing G'd's salvation going through the sea. The Zohar adds that if we say this song with happiness, it will help us to achieve forgiveness for our sins.
The obvious question is what is so special about this song that we should merit to be forgiven for our sins just by saying it with happiness. The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 22:3) asks an additional question: Why do we mention the splitting of the sea in the blessing after Shema every day? The Midrash answers that at the splitting of the sea we find that the Jewish people reached a level of complete faith in G'd, as it says (Shemos 13:41): "And they had faith in G'd". In the merit of this complete faith, says the Midrash, they were Divinely inspired to sing the Song by the Sea. We mention the splitting of the sea in order that we also become inspired before we start say the Shemoneh Esrei. This helps us to purify our hearts and reach a higher level of faith in G'd. Remembering the splitting of the Sea does not just give us a feeling of salvation. Rather it allows us to rise to a purer feeling of complete faith in the Almighty Who provided us with the salvation then.
Song by the Sea & 13 principles
It is interesting to note that if we analyze the Song by the Sea, we will find that 11 of the Rambam's 13 basic principles of faith are alluded to in this special song.
The first principle is to believe that there is a Creator who created the world. He continuously guides and takes care of every detail of creation and is the constant cause of everything that happens. This was most apparent at the splitting of the sea when the Jewish people "saw the great hand that G'd inflicted" (Shemos 15:31). It was as if G'd reached down from Heaven and personally protected the Jewish people from their enemy. The Ramban points out at the end of Parashas Bo that the purpose of such great miracles is to teach us that the Almighty is directly involved in our everyday events. As it says (Shemos 8:18): "So that you shall know that I am G'd in the midst of the land".
The second principle is to believe in the uniqueness of G'd, that there is no other like Him. The essence of the whole Song is to describe G'd's uniqueness, as we quote both morning and evening between Shema and Shemoneh Esrei (Shemos 15:11). "Who is like You among the heavenly powers, G'd!"
The third principle is to believe that G'd is not limited to, or affected by, physical reality. This is referred to in the Song when it says (Shemos15:1), "I shall sing to G'd for He is exalted above everyone". Rashi explains that G'd is able to do what no physical being can do. No praise will describe G'd adequately, contrary to human kings and leaders who are often praised in excess of their merits.
The fourth principle is to believe that G'd always was and always will be. This is mentioned explicitly in the Song when it says (Shemos 15:18): "G'd shall reign for all eternity".
The fifth principle is to believe that one should only pray to G'd. This is alluded to in the Song when it says (Shemos 15:2): "This is my G'd and I will build Him a Sanctuary". For the purpose of the Sanctuary is to have a place to serve and pray to G'd, as King Solomon repeatedly expressed at the inauguration of the Temple in Jerusalem (see Kings 1:8:28-44).
The sixth principle is to believe what the prophets say in the name of G'd. Rashi quotes from the Mechilta (2) that even the simplest maid servant had a prophetic vision at the time of the splitting of the Sea greater than the prophecy of the prophet Yechezkel.
The seventh principle is to believe in the truthfulness of the prophecy of Moses, and that he was the greatest prophet of all time. Before the Jewish people were Divinely inspired to sing the Song by the Sea, the Torah relates that not only did they have complete faith in G'd, they also had complete faith in Moses. As it says (Shemos 14:31): "And they had faith in G'd and in His servant, Moses".
(The eighth principle is to believe in the truthfulness of the Torah. The ninth principle is to believe that the Torah never changed and never will change. There is no reference to the Torah in the Song since the Torah had not yet been given to the Jewish people at the time of the splitting of the sea. This took place later at the revelation at Mount Sinai as related in next week's Parashas Yisro.)
The tenth principle is to believe that G'd knows all the deeds and thoughts of every human being. This Divinely inspired Song entails both what was going on in the hearts of the Jewish people and the Egyptians. Rashi explains that the simple meaning of the introduction to the Song, "Then Moses and the children of Israel will sing this song", does not refer to the future. Rather, it describes the inner feelings of the Jewish people. When they saw the great miracles, their hearts had a strong desire to sing. Similarly, when it says that the enemy declared (Shemos 15: 9), "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide plunder…", it describes the feelings and conversations of the Egyptians when they were still back in Egypt before chasing after the Jewish people. How could Moses know what everyone was thinking? Only because G'd, Who knows the thoughts of every person, shared this information with him.
The eleventh principle is to believe that G'd rewards those that fulfill His commandments and punish those that violate them. This is expressed several times in the Song. For example, Rashi explains that when it says, (Shemos 15:6) "Your right hand G'd is glorified with strength", it refers to G'd rewarding the Jews and saving them. On the other hand, when it says "Your right hand, G'd, smashes the enemy", it is a reference to G'd punishing the Egyptians for their misdeeds.
The twelfth principle is to believe in the coming of Mashiach. This is hinted to at the end of the Song where it says (Shemos 15:17), "You will bring them and implant them on the mount of Your heritage, the foundation of Your dwelling place that You, G'd, have made - the Sanctuary, my G'd, that Your hands established". Rashi quotes from the Mechilta that the Sanctuary that G'd will establish with "both hands" is the third and final Temple that will be built when Mashiach comes. This is evident from the next verse where it says, "G'd will reign for all eternity", which refers to the time of Mashiach.
The thirteenth principle is to believe in the resurrection of the dead. Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b) that the deeper meaning of the introduction to the Song, (Shemos 15:1) "then Moses and the Children of Israel will sing this song to G'd", actually refers to the future when G'd will bring back the dead and they will sing G'd's praise once again.
When the Jewish people experienced the final destruction of the Egyptian army, and saw their own miraculous salvation, they reached a zenith in their faith in G'd. They expressed their strong feelings of happiness and appreciation in the form of this beautiful Song. Similarly, when we render this Song daily it reminds us of all these principles of faith. Through these poetic words we also express our happiness and appreciation for past and present salvations. We can now understand that saying this song with the right thoughts and feelings is a great merit that helps us achieve forgiveness for our sins.
The Midrash Tanchuma says that just as the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their faith in G'd, so will we be redeemed from our exile in the merit of our faith in G'd. May we soon experience this redemption that will bring the world to complete fulfillment, with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
P.S. If you have any questions or enjoyed reading this e-mail, we would appreciate hearing from you. If you know of others who may be interested in receiving e-mails similar to this please let us know at email@example.com .
Shema Yisrael Torah Network