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 'Shirat HaYam' - The Song of the Sea

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daniel eliezer

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Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: 'Shirat HaYam' - The Song of the Sea   Sun Apr 20, 2014 1:06 pm

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

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Between Man and God: Am Yisrael’s Finest Hour
Shirat HaYam – Song of the Sea

As we all know, or all want to know, tonight begins the 7th and last day of Pesach [Passover] (two days in the Diaspora). Besides its being the day which concludes the week of Pesach, during our Redemption from Egypt this was the day on which the sea split by which we were saved from the annihilation, while the Egyptian forces who were pursuing us were destroyed. Understand well that this IS NOT an historical moment which we are celebrating, however much it occurred in history. It is a Redemptive moment of supreme importance, so much so that Tradition teaches us, “at the splitting of the sea, the lowliest handmaiden achieved a state of such elevated consciousness which even the greatest prophets were incapable of achieving!” So let’s see.

With God’s help, I’m going to try to say over Torah from one of the most Heilige of all the great Rebbes (and possibly the greatest), who teaches just how magnificent we – Am Yisrael – are. First, however, I want to learn something a little bit differently than the way we usually learn it or are taught it, and hopefully it will help set up what follows.

The story of K’riyat Yam Suf – the Splitting of the Reed Sea (Suf is ‘reed’ not ‘red’) and of our singing the ‘Shirat HaYam’ – the ‘Song of the Sea’ is found in ‘B’Shalach in Sefer Shemot [the Book of Exodus]. In the opening lines of B’Shalach’ we’ve left Pharaoh’s crumbled regime behind and set our faces to the welcoming sun in front, commencing our journey on the ultimate road to freedom. We’ve begun the trek that within a short two months will bring us home to the Land of Israel.
[*]

Of course, as we all know, nothing is ever what it seems to be. Our preferences are a beeline, however God turns us away from the most direct route…then we turn this way…then we turn that way…and finally we turn almost all the way around and go back upon ourselves. At last, though, we align in the right direction, and…aha, behold, there’s the sea, the beautiful Reed Sea in front of us! What an incredibly stunning sight…just as are the massive, towering cliffs on either side of us that funneled our approach to the water’s edge.

It was an ideal, sunny, vacation spot, except that at the moment it was perhaps just a little too serious for fun-in-the-sun. Pharaoh and the Egyptian armed forces were pursuing after us, and they caught up with us at this prime vacation spot.

What were we? Some maybe two million plus souls, a week out of servitude and oppression, scarcely seasoned by a week of desert wandering, and now here we are trapped by the powers that be. In front of us we we’re confronted with an impassable sea, to either side loom over us unscalable cliffs, and closing in behind us is a desperate, armed and destructive force fueled on vengeance. What do we do?

So that we make no mistake and thoroughly understand this dilemma, I reiterate. There is no way, absolutely no way, out of this dilemma. There never was and there never will be. We human beings are pedestrians - puny, unarmed, helpless pedestrians in the desert. We’re not fish who can agilely swim the sea. We’re not goats who can nimbly clamber over desert crags. We’re not birds who on the slimmest of breezes can surmount both sea and mountain as if they don’t exist. We’re not armor-plated or armor-armed to repel armed violence. We are absolutely, totally, and inescapably at the mercy of the elements and the events. Game, set, match: man loses! Period.

I once taught this learning on the last day of Pesach to my mother-in-law. Although we should be, she and I are not best friends. I love her dearly, but I avoid her like the plague. She’s too neurotic. Correct that. She’s religiously too neurotic. One moment she’s the epitome of saintliness and goodwill and the next she’s God’s archenemy with a vehemence. She has all the mishegas [Yid: craziness] of a second generation American Jew (b. 1928) who grew up in the southwest and who to this day hasn’t figured out if she’s first ‘an American and then a Jew’ or ‘a Jew and then an American’. She made Aliyah to be with her family, i.e. her husband and children, but with extreme reluctance she left behind her own family, i.e. mother, siblings, nieces, and nephews.

When I started teaching her about ‘K’riyat Yam Suf’ – ‘the splitting of the Reed Sea’, she sat with agitated impatience, waiting for me to get to the part where I say, “Aha! We listened to God and stepped into the sea and the water parted!” Then she was going to close the seas on me! I didn’t intend to do that, because her antagonism and umbrage can be so extreme that I think even Moshe and Aaron would wring their hands in exasperation.

Instead, I stayed right there and built up the scene. Impassable sea, unscalable cliffs, desperate army…Impassable sea, unscalable cliffs, desperate army…Impassable sea, unscalable cliffs, desperate army. No matter how she tried to turn it or how she sought to go past it or escape what I was saying, I kept pulling her back to the reality of what was there: Impassable sea, unscalable cliffs, desperate army…Impassable sea, unscalable cliffs, desperate army…Impassable sea, unscalable cliffs, desperate army.

Then, after going back and forth with her for several minutes and forcing the message home, I finally said, “Given the hopelessness of their position, the MONUMENTAL HOPELESSNESS of it, what was the most natural, logical, and sane thing to do?”

Without waiting for her to answer, I continued, “SURRENDER!” Surrender – and ONLY SURRENDER - was the singularly and only sane, logical, and realistic response and reaction to their dilemma.”

“So,” I asked, knowing that I now had her undivided attention, “Why? Why did we step forward into the sea and not turn around with our hands up? What made us go forward? What did we see, what did we believe in that we had the faith to commit ourselves to the sea for our salvation? What?! What?!” Then I shut up and let her think.

I had absolutely no idea what was going on in her mind, but my mother-in-law, God bless her, was clearly in the throes of a struggle. It was very clear from her countenance and posture that she was embracing something that she’d probably never touched before. In fascination, I watched as moods and emotions surged through her body and crossed her face. After long moments of suspense, she suddenly erupted with the most positive energy blurting out…“ALIYAH!”

Aliyah WAS NOT the answer that I wanted [not even for us], but her visceral response was very clearly the response of those Jews who took the heroic steps forward into the waiting water.

[Has anyone ever taught us this version of ‘K’riyat Yam Suf’? Has anyone ever made us think about it, made us put ourselves in the shoes of those Jews, our ancestors, and resolve their dilemma? It’s not common, if they have. I’m not enamored with myself, it’s just that it annoys me that no one ever let’s us figure it out for ourselves. No one ever makes us do it. Why bother? There’s Rashi and ...

Let me give us a blessing. If we wait for them, it’ll never happen. Do it ourselves. If we can read these words, we’re big enough and old enough and smart enough to figure it out for and by ourselves. We might even discover some wonderful things about ourselves, just like my mother-in-law did. I bless us to step into the sea of Torah.]

Before we leave this portion, when we did step into the sea, what happened?

Most of us envision it that after a step or two or three the water parted, opened into a wide avenue that disappeared towards the distant side of the sea…………………………….a wide and beckoning boulevard enticing us forward.

There’s another opinion, however, that says it differently. When we stepped into the sea, the sea retreated, but it only retreated the length of our stride. We needed to take another stride to cause the sea to retreat further, and then another stride and another stride and another and………..

Each opinion is an accurate reflection of life. There are moments when all of what’s before us opens up with the illumination of a lightening bolt, and the direction to follow is clear and obvious. But usually reality works differently. Mostly, we progress only steps at a time, sometimes agonizing steps at a time, and the light that illuminates our way has only limited scope. However, in order for both the visionary and envisioner to cross the sea, each can only do it a stride at a time. The goal is the same; it’s just the degree of visibility that varies.

Now, let’s turn to the Heilige Rebbe Levi Yitzhak ben Sara Sasha Berditchev, heneni, and discover just why ‘K’riyat Yam Suf’ was Am Yisrael’s finest hour in our relationship with God. Shirat HaYam – The Song of the Sea [Shemot 15:1] begins with the words, “אז ישיר” – “Ahz Yashir” – “thence we sang”. Even without any formal Torah learning or knowledge, in simply looking at Shirat HaYam – The Song of the Sea we all recognize that it’s sung and written in the present tense. Given that this is true, the word ‘אז’ – ‘Ahz’ – ‘thence’ makes no grammatical sense whatsoever, and this causes the commentators to think deeply.

Astoundingly, Rebbe Levi Yitzhak says that ‘אז’ – ‘Ahz’ – ‘thence’ refers not to after we crossed the sea and are standing on the other side, but it refers to when we were standing on the shore facing the sea and hadn’t yet set foot in the water…meaning that our song was already forming inside us before we made any move whatsoever!? His reasoning and explanation are as impeccable as they are demanding. Because of their length and strength, I felt it worthwhile to say it in brevity, hoping that this will speak more readily to all of us.

What the Heilige Rebbe comes to teach us we’ll return to, but first we’ll look at this.

Our servitude in Egypt built up over two hundred years, and it was only when we reached the brink of annihilation was when Moshe returned to Egypt and our redemption began. For the entire year during which Egypt was confronted by plagues, Moshe and Aharon were attempting to restore and rebuild and resuscitate Am Yisrael. We were far from any kind of shape to leave, and the time needed was very precious time indeed. Clearly God’s simply taking us out isn’t any more difficult that God’s turning creation inside-out, thus this was never the purpose of Redemption, however much it’s obviously part of Redemption.

The purpose of Redemption is that ‘we, of our volition, would leave Egypt’ as ‘בני חורין’ – ‘Bnei Horin’ - as free people. We were actually introducing into the world the reality [not concept] of ‘freedom in person, mind, and soul’. This is what the Redemption from Egypt is all about: absolute and unequivocal and uninhibited freedom. What is this freedom dependent upon?…the responsibility of relationship…the responsibility of relationship between us and the Source of All Being.

And it’s a two-way street.

We commonly and unquestioningly accept that [Passover] Seder night is the time when we left Egypt and became free. Setting aside the reality that we actually left in the day, it’s undeniably true that the Egyptians demanded we leave, however much we left of ourselves. What really happened during the Plague of the Firstborn is that doors opened, and in our confronting those doors and walking through them is when we began our journey to freedom.

But we weren’t yet free, certainly not in any irreversible way. In fact, God’s not taking us directly to the Land of Israel but instead leading us around in the Midbar [Desert] was in recognition of this reality. We had yet to make the commitment that was irrevocable. When, then, did we do it?

According to the Heilige Rebbe Levi Yitzhak, we made it - ‘אז’ – ‘Ahz’ – ‘thence’ - then and there as we were standing on the edge of the sea. In the seeming reality of MONUMENTAL HOPELESSNESS…for any other it would have been…but B’nei Yisrael has never been and never will be ‘any other’, however much it appears otherwise. When we stepped out of the gates of Egypt we entered the portals of ‘Coming Home’. We were coming home to ourselves as we commenced the journey of coming to the Land of Israel.

On that night, the 7th of our leaving Egypt, Rebbe Levi Yitzhak says that we so much believed in ourselves and in who we are and to whom we are connected that we spontaneously and of ourselves began singing inside ourselves in praise and in glory of what was happening. That song - our song, song in the face of seemingly MONUMENTAL HOPELESSNESS, is what opened all the gates. In opening all the gates of our hearts, we opened all the gates of God’s heart, and once we did that could there be anything in Creation that would not be willing to stand aside for us…including the sea?

As I’ve said, this teaching of the Heilige Levi Yitzhak is a very, very, deep Torah teaching, one that once I learned and taught it ten years ago has only grown on me. In that ‘Shirat HaYam’ – the ‘Song of the Sea’ closes the Pirkei D’zimra of our morning prayers, I literally think about it every day, sometimes more; sometimes less, but it’s always there in front of me. Despite this, I have never said it over or even thought about it as I’ve said it now.

Not in way of proof, although it is, but in way of praise, I want to bring from the Torah itself.

Even in having said everything that I’ve said from the beginning until now, I still know how difficult it is enter the reality of Torah and to see that it is very real and the ultimate of Truth. What I’ve taught in the name of the Heilige Rebbe Levi Yitzhak Berditchev is a wonderful and powerful idea, but still…who knows?

In answer, fascinatingly, we – Am Yisrael – we almost never speak in the Torah. A word or two here or a complaint there or an acquiescence or a denial escape our lips. However, at the very first opportunity that we ever had in existence, at that very first moment after we had escaped the oppressive bonds of servitude and when we were finally free to be ourselves…to be the Jews who we are…then and there - unprovoked and unbidden - we SANG!

Every single one of us, each man, each woman, and each child, sang the most magnificent praises to the Holy One, Blessed be He. For some twenty spontaneous verses song soared from our souls: our collective soliloquy to the essence of our life and existence. Never before had God heard such music, and never has there been anyone else who is capable of singing it.

Between man and God, we – B’nei Yisrael – gave God His existence. We are the ‘Chosen People’, not because God ‘chose us’ but because we ‘chose and choose’ God. We choose God by believing and by doing, and by believing and by doing we bring God’s love into this world.

God ascends His throne, not merely because we believe in Him, but because our belief in Him is song in our hearts. Says the Heilige Levi Yitzhak, ‘yashir’ – ‘will sing’ can also be read as the intensive, meaning: causing someone to sing. Our singing our song causes God, Himself, to sing. Gevaldt!

Gut Yom Tov,
Daniel Eliezer
20 Nissan 5774
[*]60 days is what it could have been! See the first Rashi in D’varim [Deuteronomy]

*         *         *
What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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