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Weekly Chizuk



And it was when Pharaoh sent the nation. (Shemos 13:17)

(Adapted from my sefer Trust Me!)

After the climactic events surrounding the Exodus from Egypt, Klal Yisroel were still not on an elevated level suitable to receive the Torah. Hashem, therefore, instead of taking the direct path up the coast to Eretz Yisroel, led us on a roundabout path through the wilderness. This would enable Him to perform more miracles which would further strengthen our faith and trust. Then we would be properly prepared to receive the Torah.

Then Hashem did a very strange thing. He had us reverse course back toward Egypt, fooling Pharaoh into thinking that we had gotten lost in the wilderness. Pharaoh gathered his men and set out in pursuit, reaching Klal Yisroel encamped by the shore of Yam Suf. Upon seeing the massive Egyptian army in hot pursuit, and the sea in front of us, we had nowhere to run. Instinctively we davened to Hashem. Moshe was instructed to extend his hand over the sea and split it. The waters parted and we entered the seabed, walking on dry land. The Egyptians should have been terror struck by the sight of the towering walls of water splitting to make a path for the millions of Klal Yisroel. Instead, inexplicably, the Egyptians decided to follow us in hot pursuit. Just as the last Jew left the sea and the last of the Egyptian legion entered, Hashem again commanded Moshe to extend his hand over the waters, this time causing the walls of water to return to their normal state, crashing down on the Egyptian legions who were utterly destroyed.

The entire multitude of Klal Yisroel, witnessing this unbelievable miracle which brought an astonishing and conclusive end to their Egyptian persecution, spontaneously erupted into a burst of song. With an intense expression of awe and emunah, Moshe led the men in the famous song of praise sung to Hashem, "Az Yashir." The song included praises for the redemption of the Jewish People and the meting out of punishment to the Egyptians.

Miriam then led the women in their song of praise: "Vata'an lahem Miriam," "And Miriam sang to them. Sing to Hashem who was victorious in battle; horse and rider, He threw into the sea" {Shemos 15:21).

The Chasam Sofer points out a number of difficulties regarding this incident. First, Miriam left out all the phrases of praise for the Almighty and concentrated on the destruction of Egypt. Why did her version of the song omit any mention of the redemption of the Jews?

Secondly, we find in the Midrash Tanchuma (parashas Beshalach, section 13) that Moshe and the men sang their song before the angels sang theirs. The angels could not start until Klal Yisroel had finished. However, when it was the women's turn to sing, the angels complained about having to wait for the women to sing their song as well. They also wanted to sing the praise of the Almighty. The Midrash continues by noting that the word "Vata'an," which we previously defined as "sang" (as per Targum Yonasan), literally means "to answer." The possuk properly reads "She answered them," "them" being in the masculine form. Miriam was not singing to the women. She was answering the angels with her song.

What was Miriam's answer to the angels by singing about the destruction of Egypt?

In answer, the Chasam Sofer first mentions a disagreement among the Rishonim over the interpretation of the obligation of women to drink four cups of wine on Pesach night. The gemara explains with the reasoning, "even they were involved in the miracle" (Pesachim 108b). The Rashbam describes this as referring to the fact that the main miracle came about through the merit of the women. Tosfos challenges this assertion, noting that the Talmud states "even they," which implies that their role was only secondary. Tosfos seems to have a valid point here. How can the Rashbam justify his position? The simple reading of the gemara doesn't support his view and fits in better with Tosfos.

The Chasam Sofer defends the Rashbam and through this he provides an answer to his original question. He explains that we define miracles as supernatural events - things that surpass the normal bounds of nature. Nature itself, however, is subservient to Torah. As Rashi notes in his commentary on the Torah, "Bereishis [In the beginning]," the very first word of the Torah, means: "Be" - for the sake of, "Reishis" - Torah, which is called "Reishis [Primary]." Thus we see that the entire Creation is based on the acceptance and observance of the Torah.

Therefore, the greater an individual's righteousness, the greater is nature's obligation to do his bidding and the smaller is the "miracle" performed when the "natural" operation of things is superseded. Conversely, the smaller a person's merit, the greater is the miracle.

Now we are able to understand the Rashbam. Since the miracle happened predominantly through the great merit of the women, being such great tzidkanios, nature had to protect them. For them it wasn't such a miracle; rather, it was almost natural. They were therefore secondary in the miracle. Thus the gemara states that, "Even they were involved in the miracle." Being that they experienced the Geula from Mitzrayim, they are also obligated in the four cups. For the men, however, who didn't have as much merit, the deliverance that Pesach commemorates constituted a tremendous miracle.

Utilizing this idea, the Chasam Sofer addresses his original question. We were redeemed from Egypt through the merit of the righteous women (Sotah 11b). That the sea should split for them is taken for granted, as something natural. They didn't need to sing shirah about the actual redemption, for they didn't experience a miracle and had no need to acknowledge it. For the men, however, it was a different story. They weren't as worthy as the women, and needed a tremendous miracle to be saved. In gratitude for their miraculous salvation, they sang a song of praise to the Almighty.

The angels agreed that the men, who were less worthy, should precede them in singing shirah, because the parting of the waters constituted an incredible miracle for them. However, they claimed that the women had earned the redemption due to their merits. Therefore, the splitting of the sea was a lesser miracle for them. That being the case, the angels felt that there was no reason for them to wait for the women's shirah!

To this Miriam answered, "Our shirah is not mainly for the redemption. Our shirah is for having seen the Egyptian horses and riders thrown into the sea. True, we deserved the redemption on our own merit, and thusly the splitting of the sea on our behalf wasn't so miraculous. However, in order for us to survive, it was not necessary for us to witness our enemies' destruction. To behold that sight was no longer within the realm of the "natural." It is for this miracle that our shirah as well should precede that of the angels." The angels were forced to agree.

* * *

The Talmud (Chullin 7a) relates that R. Pinchas ben Yair was once traveling to perform the mitzvah of redeeming captives. He came to the Ginai River, and was unable to cross it. "Ginai," he commanded, "split your waters so that I may pass."

The river retorted, "You are traveling to do the will of the Creator, and I, by having my waters flow, am doing the will of the Creator. You are uncertain whether or not your mission will be successful, whereas I am certain that my mission is succeeding.

R. Pinchas ben Yair responded sharply: "If you don't split for me, I'll decree that water will never again flow through you!" As the Iyun Ya'akov explains, R. Pinchas ben Yair was telling the Ginai River that the Creator's will is that Creation should submit to the will of His servants.

The waters immediately split.

There was another Jew accompanying him, who was carrying wheat for Pesach. R. Pinchas ben Yair demanded, "Split for him as well, as he is also involved in a mitzvah!"

Again, the waters split.

There was also an Arab merchant who was accompanying them. "Split for him!" R. Pinchas ben Yair commanded. "Let it not be said that the Jews desert their travel companions."

Once more, the waters split.

There is nothing more natural than "nature" taking care of those who do His will.

Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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