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Beshalach - A Song for the Ages

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Jan 7, 2014

SHIRA is not simply a song.  SHIRA is perhaps one of the most pure and beautiful expressions of love, devotion, commitment and accomplishment. Henry Giles, an English preacher in the mid-1800’s, wrote: “A song will outlive all sermons in the memory.” When there is a need to express something more profound than the simple meaning of spoken words, SHIRA begins where words end.

In this week’s Parsha we read of a SHIRA, a song of songs sung by the fledgling Jewish people as they saw the mighty Red Sea come crashing down on their Egyptian oppressors.  AZ YASHIR MOSHE U’VNAI YISROEL (It was then that Moshe and the children of Israel sang), they were so overcome with joy and elation that there were no words - only SHIRA.

Why did the Jewish people wait until crossing the Red Sea to sing SHIRA?  Why didn’t the people burst forth with spontaneous song upon their departure from Egypt, upon tasting freedom for the first time?

Perhaps, the answer can be found in a very strange exchange between Moshe and God.  As the Jewish people stand by the banks of the Red Sea, roaring waves in front of them, hostile and vengeful Egyptian army behind them - Moshe lifts his eyes heavenward and begins to supplicate for Divine assistance.  God responds in a most unusual fashion; “The Lord said to Moshe, Why do you cry out to me?  Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel (Exodus 14:15).” What does this mean?  Who else should Moshe be calling out to?  Isn’t prayer the most instinctive spiritual response to difficulty and challenge?

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen of Dvinsk (1843-1926) in his work titled Meshech Chochma explains that until now the Jewish people had followed Moshe like sheep following a shepherd.  Despite the fact that they so often seemed to doubt Moshe’s ability and leadership - at the end of the day, he was their shepherd, they believed in him and were prepared to follow him into the sea.  It is here that God turns to Moshe and says, “The people have clearly demonstrated their willingness to follow (they followed you out of Egypt), they must now demonstrate their ability and willingness to take the lead.”

MAH TITZAK ELAI “Why are you praying Moshe?  It is not a lack of prayer or supplication that is holding up this process.”

DABER EL B’NAI YISROEL V’YISAU“Tell the people they must go in first and you will follow them.”

God explains to Moshe, “I need the nation of Israel to exhibit initiativeI need them to demonstrate that they have the inner strength to do what is right and take the reins of life even if their leader is not leading the charge.” Only 7 days out of Egypt the children of Israel are being asked to exhibit initiative and walk in to the raging sea before Moshe Rabbeinu!

Perhaps, now we can understand why the SHIRA could only have occurred after crossing the sea.  Rabbi Aharon Soloveitchik zt’l explains: “SHIRA is appropriate only when one attains a victory—and to be a victor one must actively participate in the struggle” (The Warmth and the Light, Feldheim, p. 129).  There was no SHIRA upon leaving Egypt because the children of Israel were simply “following.”  SHIRA can only be sung when one has accomplished something of epic proportions.  SHIRA is the melodic culmination of man’s work, toil and struggle. After the Jewish people crossed the Sea of Reeds, they sang SHIRA, elated that they had been able to summon and harness the inner strength to walk into the roaring waves, imbued as they were with the hope and belief that God would save them.  It was at the sea that they were forced to exhibit initiative, they had to actively participate in the struggle, they had to overcome the natural impulse to run back to the “safety” of Egypt.  They had to literally jump into the unknown.   This is an accomplishment and life victory of epic proportions.  The crossing was an event of such great magnitude that the feelings of the people could not be captured in mere words – they needed the extra emotion and power that only SHIRA could provide.


Throughout the journey of life we each encounter our own issues, challenges and problems. Too often we wait for someone to lead us across the turbulent sea of our troubles into our personal Promised Land.   We must learn from our ancestors.  If we desire a life of SHIRA - a life of accomplishment and fulfillment - we must be willing to take the initiative, actively participate in the struggle and initiate our personal redemption.


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