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| On that day G-d saved Israel from the Egyptians: Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore… the people revered G-d; and they had faith in G-d and in Moses His servant. Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to G-d… (14:30-1, 15:1).
The Song of Moses and the Israelites is one of thanks. Its first half praises G-d as the Almighty Deliverer, recounting how He brought justice on the Egyptians. The second part exults in how the surrounding nations will tremble on hearing of fate of the Egyptians, and they will therefore fear G-d and His People. It ends with a prayer that G-d will continue to favor and protect them in the future.
This section poses several questions:
1. Why is this passage given special importance? It is highlighted in the Sefer Torah, by being the only section to be written differently on alternate lines – like alternate bonding in bricklaying. Moreover the Ashkenazi communities have the custom to stand while is read in public – as they also do for the Ten Commandments.
2. G-d saved the Israelites from the Egyptians with many miracles. What was special about this one, which was the only miracle described that had the effect of causing the Israelites to have faith in G-d and in Moses His servant?
3. For what reason did Chazal chose this Song to conclude the verses of praise in the daily morning service? Indeed the Shulchan Aruch writes that a person is worthy of having his sins forgiven if he prays that section with intensive joy, as though he was personally saved by G-d.
4. The Mechilta (to Ex. 15:2) brings the tradition that the humble maidservant saw more of G-d at the Red Sea than the Prophet Ezekiel experienced in his Divine communications. An even elementary understanding of the first chapter of Ezekiel would make this statement very difficult to grasp.
The following ancedote is a starting point towards considering the above issues.
A woman visited the Belzer Rebbe and asked him to pray for her so that G-d should help her overcome a serious problem. He replied: “Have faith!” However she replied, “when I pray in the morning I say the words G-d saved… and they had faith in G-d. If G-d helps me then I will have faith.” The Rebbe replied, “No one ever got the better of me except this woman…” (quoted from Rabbi C. Wischanski: From the Shabbat Table, p. 90).
It follows from here that the events described in the Song caused an unparalleled surge of faith in the Israelites. The Artscroll-Stone Edition of Exodus points out that in the normal course of events we often fail to see G-d at work. We observe and sometimes experience suffering, injustice, and evil, and we wonder how G-d can allow them to happen. Vary rarely, however, there is a flash of insight that makes people understand how all pieces of the puzzle fit together. Unlike the painful beginnings of exile and stages towards the final redemption viewed by Ezekiel, the miracles of the Red Sea were personally experienced by all the Israelites present. At such a time they reach the understanding of how every note, every instrument, and every participant in G-d’s symphony of Creation plays its respective role. As the Or Hachayim points out, then sang Moses and the Israelites means that only then, at the miracle of the Red Sea, were they able to sing. Only then - when they had personally experienced harmony in the Creation. Moreover, as R, Moshe Feinstein writes, the Israelites recognized a new dimension of G-d’s greatness when the same miracle that saved the righteous simultaneously punished the wicked.
The splitting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians did not only cause the Israelites to reach new levels of faith. It also brought them to love, and come close to G-d. The force behind the Song was gratitude: unreserved thanks to the Almighty. This is developed in the next paragraphs.
Rabbi E. E. Dessler (Michtav Mi-Eliyahu, vol. 3) develops the idea that when a person genuinely gives to someone else, he becomes closer to him; he feels a share in his being. The only reason another person seems a stranger is because he has not yet given to him. Rabbi Dessler expands this idea by saying that when a person is genuinely concerned with the good and welfare of everyone he comes into contact, he will soon feel that they are all his people, all his loved ones. He explains the words: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18) in its literal sense – by giving of yourself, you find in your soul that you and he are indeed one.
Rabbi Dessler extends this principle by saying that the same applies to love of G-d. When a person feels gratitude to Him for all the good he receives every day in his life, he will naturally express his gratitude by sacrifice or prayer - offered in sincerity. By doing this, a person becomes a ‘giver’ to G-d. This is the relationship that, as discussed above, causes the ‘giver’ to love the ‘receiver’. Rabbi Dessler states that this idea is hinted in the first of the Ten Commandments: I am the L-rd your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery (20:2). The deliverance from the house of slavery is intended to arouse in us feelings of gratitude to the Almighty, as a prelude to our acceptance of His Torah. And by loving G-d, a person wishes to serve him to the very best of his ability.
Therefore the Song was an outpouring of genuine, unadulterated gratitude as well as intensified faith. It took both qualities to bring the Israelites yet closer to the Almighty. By having given such intense gratitude to G-d, they were indeed clinging to G-d: And you, those that cling to G-d are alive – all of you – today (Deut. 4:4). Indeed, Rashi derives from the text (Judges 6:1, Rashi ad loc.) that such was the sincerity of the song of Deborah that it served to wipe out all previous records of Israelites’ idol worship. It is that love for G-d that ensures the continued solid relationship between Man and G-d – represented by the ‘brick-bonding’ arrangement in all the three songs – the Song of Moses and the Israelites, the Song of Deborah (Judges 5) and the Song of David (Samuel II, 22).
So when we include the Song of Moses and the Israelites in our daily prayers, we are re-affirming our love for Him through our gratitude for all we receive. We return to the position of our ancestors, expressing the faith that eventually the reason for the world’s suffering will be understood – the Truth will be revealed, and true justice will be executed, as in the generation of the Exodus.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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