By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Yetzias Mitzrayim and Krias Yam Suf are bedrocks of our faith. Locked in with no way out, the Jews were miraculously freed from slavery. Subsequently, as they stood at the Yam Suf, they were once again locked in with no way to proceed. Their tormentors were behind them and a large impassable body of water lay in front of them. In each situation, they required deep levels of faith in order to be redeemed.
Hashem sent Moshe to speak to Paroh on behalf of the Jewish people, seeking their freedom. However, instead of the meeting leading to anything fruitful, Jewish suffering worsened. There was reason to believe that by following the word of Hashem, Moshe had made things worse. It required a great degree of faith for the Jewish people to continue to believe that Hashem would free them. They maintained their faith and therefore were freed.
However, once again, it seemed that by following Hashem, they faced ruin. Hashem told Moshe to lead the people to Pi Hachiros, between Migdol and the Red Sea. Paroh chased after them and found them encamped at the sea. The people feared and cried out to Moshe and Hashem. Moshe responded that they should remain silent and Hashem would fight for them.
The water was not yet split and Hashem told Moshe to tell the people to travel on. Even though the command made no sense, with the sea in front of them they placed their faith in Hashem and proceeded to march into the water. Due to their emunah and zechus avos, the water split for them and they walked on dry land (Rashi 14:15).
Because they acted solely based on emunah and bitachon, without thinking about whether it made sense or not, they were freed. In fact, Hashem told them to act in such a manner to teach the Jewish people that, as Rav Chaim Soloveitchik taught, emunah and bitachon begin where intelligence ends. Many times, things don’t necessarily make sense, but that should not cause us to lose faith and lose hope. We believe that if we follow the word of Hashem, we will not fail.
Chazal teach that at the splitting of the sea, simple maids merited perceiving Divine splendor and glory in a way that surpassed the visions of even the greatest prophets. We wonder what it was that they saw. Were the Jews at Krias Yam Suf the only people to appreciate the magnitude of miracles? Surely not. Was the sight of a mighty sea splitting the greatest supernatural experience?
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 23:3) sheds light on the vision apparent at the splitting of the sea. The Medrash concentrates on the word “oz,” which opens the eternal song of the shirah. Chazal say that Moshe Rabbeinu had previously sinned by uttering the word “oz” in a complaint against Hashem. “Be’oz chotoh,” with “oz” he sinned, “ube’oz tikkein,” and with “oz” it was rectified.
Moshe Rabbeinu erred by asking Hashem why it was necessary to increase the suffering of the Bnei Yisroel. Hashem appeared to Moshe and told him that He heard the cries of the enslaved Jewish people. He would free them from oppression and take them to the Promised Land. Hashem instructed the reluctant Moshe to appear before Paroh and ask him to permit the Jews a brief respite to worship Hashem in the desert. Unreceptive to the request, Paroh tightened the pressure on the poor slaves. Moshe registered his complaint to Hashem, saying, “Umei’oz bosi el Paroh ledaber biShmecha heira la’am hazeh vehatzeil lo hitzalta es amecha – Since I spoke in Your Name to Paroh, he has worsened the way he treats the people and You have not rescued them” (Shemos 5:23).
Moshe’s ode of repentance is apparent in this week’s song, “Oz yoshir Moshe uvnei Yisroel.” The opening word “oz” is the very term with which he sinned.
There is something that bears explanation. Moshe erred when he used the word oz to complain about the situation facing the Jews. He did not use that word in the actual shirah. What, then, does the Medrash mean when it says that Moshe sinned with “oz” and repented with “oz,” when that word is not part of the song?
We may be able to understand the depth of the connection by observing that when the Jewish suffering seemed too much to bear, Hashem appeared to Moshe and told him that the oppression would soon end. Yet, when Moshe followed Hashem’s instructions and spoke to Paroh, the workload was increased. It seemed to Moshe that appealing to Paroh for better treatment was a bad idea that backfired.
In time, however, it became clear that the increase in work was a means of advancing the redemption, for it allowed the Bnei Yisroel to be redeemed 190 years earlier than originally prophesized. The harshness of servitude caused their freedom to come sooner.
Even great nevi’im, who feel Hashem’s mastery over the cosmos, don’t merit seeing both parts of the story, the beginning and the end, come together the way the humble maids did as the Jewish nation was born as a free people at the yam.
It was the specific factor about which Moshe had complained that was the catalyst of the redemption. At the sea, as he witnessed his oppressors washing up dead on the shore and saw the mighty Egyptian army reduced to corpses, Moshe understood it.
On the shore of the Yam Suf, as geulim, Moshe and the Bnei Yisroel perceived the perfect symmetry of the Divine plan as they saw everything they had been promised come to fruition. It was then that they sang the shirah.
The root of the word shirah is shir. The Mishnah in Maseches Shabbos that lists the accessories that an animal may carry outside on Shabbos includes a shir, a round ring worn around the neck of the animal.
Rav Moshe Shapiro explained that shir is a circle. He said that at the moment they sang shirah, Moshe and the Bnei Yisroel perceived the perfect harmony of creation, how there is a beginning, middle and end to everything. They witnessed the realization of what was foretold to the avos, to Moshe and to them. When they saw that, they sang.
The Bais Halevi explains: “There is another level: he who perceives the kindness shown to him through the suffering as well, as it says, ‘I thank You, Hashem, for You have answered me and become my salvation’ (Tehillim 118:21), an expression of gratitude on the ‘inui,’ the affliction, as well as the salvation – I thank You for both, for both are beneficial and good for me. This was the attitude of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Bnei Yisroel when they sang at the Yam Suf.”
At that instant, they perceived the benefit of their long bondage.
There is another time that the word “oz” appears in Tanach that can contribute to our understanding of this equation.
The posuk in Tehillim states, “Nachon kisacha mei’oz,” meaning that Hashem’s throne has been fixed in place since creation. The Sefas Emes explains that mei’oz refers to the “oz” of Oz Yoshir. There is a certain depth of comprehension of Hashem’s Hashgocha and clarity in the revelation of His dominion that was not revealed to the world until Krias Yam Suf.
The Torah recounts that when Moshe originally told the Jewish people that Hashem had spoken to him, foretelling their release, they were unable to hear his message “mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kasha” (Shemos 6:9). The Ohr Hachaim explains that their inability to accept words of consolation was due to the fact that they had not yet received the Torah. Without Torah, their spirit was compromised. Torah expands the hearts of those who study and observe it. The Jews in Mitzrayim were not yet blessed with that ability.
Perhaps the Sefas Emes can help us explain why in Mitzrayim the Jews were unable to have faith in Moshe’s announcement that he had come to free them. The light of emunah that shined in the world at the beginning of creation had been dimmed until Krias Yam Suf. Thus, the abused slaves in Mitzrayim didn’t have the benefit of the emunah sheleimah that resides within every Jewish heart since that moment.
At Krias Yam Suf, there was a new revelation. Everything in the world that had previously been thought to be disparate and imperceptible came together clearly. They were no longer slaves. They were a new nation of geulim, having been crafted goy mikerev goy, one nation plucked from among another. The Maharal says that as they formed into a nation, they developed as people. Their minds became clearer and their hearts purer. They became capable of accepting the words of Hashem and His servant, Moshe.
It was at Krias Yam Suf that they understood that the bitterness, suffering and oppressive toil were means of hastening their freedom. Thus, the Torah records their song as “Oz yoshir.” They sang a song of oz, appreciating the profound mistake in the original complaining “oz.” They rectified their error by singing “oz,” comprehending the way of Hashem.
The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 23:2) states, “Oz yoshir is compared to the posuk (Tehillim 106), ‘Vayaaminu bidvorov yoshiru tehilaso.’” The Shela explains that this means that in merit of their faith, the Bnei Yisroel received ruach hakodesh and were able to sing shirah. In other words, oz is interchangeable with amanah, faith. Oz, because they were infused with emunah in Hashem, yoshir, they sang shirah.
When the Jews were taken from Mitzrayim, they were physically freed and were no longer slaves, but it was at Krias Yam Suf that their neshamos were freed (Sefas Emes 645). Thus, it was after they went through the Yam Suf that they were able to soar, reaching higher levels of emunah and kedusha. It was then that they merited ruach hakodesh and the ability to sing shirah.
Shirah is written in the Sefer Torah as “oriach al gabei leveinah, as bricks are assembled to form a wall.” The amount of white space on the scroll equals to that of the written words. There are as many spaces as there are words, because in shirah, everything comes together. The words and the silence, the black and the white, the darkness and the light, all combine to form shirah.
We all have challenges, aspects of our lives that we don’t understand. There are happenings that impact Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel that we can’t comprehend. We experience times that we think are good and others that seem to be not so good. We wonder why we suffer and why others suffer. We wonder why there are so many tragedies in the world, including senseless murder, disease, abuse, and sadness. But we have to remember never to lose our faith and that one day it will all become clear to us. There will be a day, soon, when we will understand all that has transpired. On that day, everyone will sing shirah, but we, men and women of faith, can sing shirah every day.
Just as the Torah records the Jews at Krias Yam Suf as, “Vayaaminu baHashem,” we, bnei uvenos Torah, possess the harchovas hadaas granted to us with Yetzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah to realize that we should maintain our faith and hold on tight through the cycles that lead to one goal.
The sefer Orchos Chasidecha recounts a story of emunah and bitachon. On May 7, 1945, Nazi Germany signed its unconditional surrender to the Allies. Following fierce American bombing, Japan surrendered at the end of the summer. Thousands of Jews had found refuge in the Japanese-controlled Chinese city of Shanghai. However, as American bombers shelled Shanghai in a final effort to defeat Japan, the refugees feared for their lives.
As the bombing campaign intensified, some students of the Mir Yeshiva, who fled Poland and Lithuania to the safety of Shanghai, suggested moving further inland to the city of Nanjing. The mashgiach of the yeshiva, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, wouldn’t hear of it. He argued that they should remain in Shanghai, saying that moving would disrupt the sidrei hayeshiva. When pressed, he explained that all the journeys of the Jews as they traversed the desert, going from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisroel, were “al pi Hashem.” They followed the Anan Hashem wherever it took them. They stayed there as long as the Anan did and moved only when it dictated they should.
“Hashem helped us until now,” said Rav Levenstein, “and we must have bitachon that He will guide us at this stage of the war as well. Until He sends a sign that we must move, we are staying here.”
Because of Rav Levenstein’s well-earned reputation and fierce bitachon, the yeshiva followed his direction and stayed in Shanghai, despite the apparent dangers.
Rav Levenstein later testified that the reason he didn’t move was because his rabbeim had appeared to him in a dream and told him that a move would be very dangerous. In fact, hundreds of Nanjing citizens were subsequently killed.
In his hesped on Rav Levenstein, Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach quoted a posuk from this week’s parsha. The Torah relates that Moshe Rabbeinu’s hands remained raised in prayer as the Jewish people battled Amaleik: “Vayehi yodov emunah ad bo hashomesh.” The literal translation of the verse is that Moshe’s hands had faith until the sun set.
“Many people have emunah in their hearts,” Rav Shach cried out. “Der mashgiach hut gehat emunah in zeine hent. The mashgiach had faith in his hands.”
Rav Levenstein, the world-renowned tzaddik, possessed a tangible emunah and was able to feel the Divine kindness in every episode and event.
His students relate that he derived much of his emunah from his daily recitation of the shirah, the words of Oz Yoshir, which were seared into his soul and armed him with the emunah he carried in his holy hands.
In this week’s parsha, we sing the song that proclaims that we know we will continue singing until we merit to chant the song that will celebrate the revelation of reasons behind the many centuries of hardship and suffering.