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Torah Attitude: Parashas Beshalach: The Song by the Sea and the Thirteen Principles

Summary

The Rambam identifies 13 principles that are essential for every Jew to believe. If said correctly, the prayer of the Song by the Sea can help us be forgiven for our sins.

The Song by the Sea

In this week's parasha we read the Song by the Sea, known as Az Yashir, that Moses and the Jewish people sung after they were saved, when the sea split into twelve tunnels. As the Jewish people reached dry land, the Egyptian army was drowned, when the walls of water came crashing down on them.

Forgiven for our sins

Every morning we read about the splitting of the sea and recite Az Yashir at the end of Pesukei D'Zimrah, just before Yishtabach. We mention the splitting of the sea again and repeat some of the highlights of Az Yashir at the end of the blessing after Shema, prior to starting the main prayer, Shemoneh Esrei. The Mishnah Berurah (51:17) quotes from the Zohar that when we say Az Yashir in our daily prayers, we should say it with happiness. We should imagine that we just went through the sea ourselves. And, says the Zohar, if we say it in this way, it will help us to be forgiven for our sins.

Complete faith

What is so special about this song that we are forgiven for our sins when we say it in happiness? There is an another question. The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 22:3) asks, what is the significance of the splitting of the sea that we mention it in the blessing after the Shema? The Midrash answers that at the splitting of the sea, the Jewish people reached a level of full faith in G'd. As it says, "and they had faith in HASHEM" (Shemos 13:41). In the merit of this complete faith, they were Divinely inspired to sing Az Yashir. In the same way, says the Midrash, we speak about the splitting of the sea before we start our main prayer. This strengthens our faith in G'd, and helps us to ask G'd for our daily needs, as we realize that only He can provide us with our needs.

Rambam's 13 principles

It goes even further. The Rambam identifies, in his commentary on Mishnayos (Sanhedrin chapter 10), 13 basic principles that are essential for every Jew to believe. An abridged version of these 13 principles is printed in most prayer books after the morning prayer. The poetic Yigdal prayer, that is printed after Adon Olam, is also based on these 13 principles.

Song by the Sea & 13 principles

If we analyze what is says in Az Yashir, we will find that 11 of the Rambam's 13 principles are alluded to in this special song.

The first principle is that there is a Creator who created the world and continuously guides and takes care of every detail of creation. He is the ultimate cause of everything that happens at all times.

At the splitting of the sea, the Jewish people experienced and saw HASHEM's great hand (see 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 the great miracles is to teach us that the Almighty is directly involved in everyday events. As it says, "so that you shall know that I am G'd in the midst of the land" (Shemos 8:18).

The second principle is to believe in the oneness and the uniqueness of G'd.

The essence of this Song is to describe G'd's uniqueness. As it says: "Who is like You among the heavenly powers, HASHEM!" (Shemos 15:11).

The third principle is that G'd is not limited or affected by any physicality, and that there is no one like Him.

In the Song we say, "I shall sing to HASHEM for He is exalted above everyone" (Shemos15: 1). Rashi explains that G'd is able to do what no physical being can do. No praise will adequately describe G'd, contrary to a human king who is often praised in excess of his merit (also see Rashi ibid 3 and 1).

The fourth principle is that G'd always was and always will be.

This is clearly described as it says (Shemos 15:18): "G'd shall reign for all eternity".

The fifth principle is that G'd is the only one we turn to in prayer.

In the beginning of Az Yashir it says, "This is my G'd and I will build Him a Sanctuary" (Shemos 15:2). The purpose of building a sanctuary is to have a place to serve and pray to G'd. As King Solomon expressed at the inauguration of the Temple (Melachim 1:8:30): "And You shall listen to the supplications of Your servant and of Israel Your nation, that they will pray at this place."

The sixth principle is to believe the words of the prophets.

Rashi quotes from the Mechilta that even the simple Jews and all the servants had prophetic visions at the time of the splitting of the Sea. This vision, says the Mechilta, was even greater than the prophecy of the prophet Yecheskel.

The seventh principle is to believe in the truthfulness of the prophecy of Moses, and that he was greater than all other prophets.

Just before Az Yashir the Torah describes how the Jews had complete faith in G'd and in Moses. As it says (Shemos 14:31), "And they had faith in G'd and in Moses, His servant."

. (The eighth principle is to believe in the truthfulness of the Torah. The ninth principle is to believe that the Torah is timeless. These two principles could not be alluded to in Az Yashir, as the Torah was not given yet to the Jewish people. This happened only at the revelation at Mount Sinai described in next week's Parashas.)

The tenth principle is that G'd knows all deeds and thoughts of every human being.

Az Yashir describes both what was going on in the hearts of the Jewish people and the Egyptians. In the first verse it says (Shemos 15:1): "Then Moses and the children of Israel will sing this song." Rashi explains that his means that when they saw the great miracles they were inspired to sing. The grammatical form of the sentence is in the future. This describes the inner feelings of the Jewish people, which only G'd knows. Similarly, Pharaoh declared, "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide plunderů" (Shemos 15:9). This records the feelings of Pharaoh and his conversation with the Egyptians before they chased after the Jewish people.

The eleventh principle is that G'd rewards those who fulfill the mitzvos (commandments) and He punishes those that transgress them.

This is expressed several times in Az Yashir. For example, it says, "Your right hand HASHEM is glorified with strength" (15:6). Says Rashi, this refers to when G'd rewards the Jews and saves them. "Your right hand, HASHEM, smashes the enemy." This, says Rashi, refers to when G'd punishes our enemies for their misdeeds.

The twelfth principle is to believe in the coming of Mashiach.

We reference to this at the end of Az Yashir when it says, "You will bring them and implant them on the mountain of Your heritage, the foundation of Your dwelling place that You, HASHEM, have made - the Sanctuary, HASHEM, that Your hands established" (Shemos 15:17). Rashi quotes from the Mechilta that the Sanctuary that will be established with "both hands" of G'd, refers to the third Temple that will be built when "G'd will reign for all eternity" (ibid 18) which refers to the time of Mashiach.

The thirteenth principle is to believe in the resurrection of the dead.

Rashi quotes from the Mechilta that the midrashic interpretation of what it says (Shemos 15:1): "then Moses and the Children of Israel will sing this song to HASHEM", refers to the time of resurrection, when G'd will bring back the dead, and Moses, together with the entire Jewish people, will sing G'd's praise again.

Conclusion

With this insight, we can better understand why we gain forgiveness for our sins when we say Az Yashir with happiness. For it indicates how strong we are in all facets of our basic principles of belief. It is as if we have just gone through the Sea with complete trust in G'd. The Midrash Tanchuma says, just like our ancestors were freed from their bondage in Egypt, in the merit of their trust in G'd, so will we be redeemed from our exile in the merit of our faith. May we soon experience the redemption, that will bring peace and prosperity to the Jewish people and the entire world.

These words were based on notes of 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 michael@deverettlaw.com .


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