“And We Sang to You”
We all love happy endings, which is why this week’s parsha is so exciting. After weeks of tragic stories and intense drama we finally are able to see the exodus in its full glory and truly feel the joy of Am Yisrael as they leave Egypt (Who knows? Maybe one day someone will even make a real movie based on this story…).
Where does the episode end?
If I was asked to describe the end of our story I think I would say that the final scene is the crossing of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians. In terms of the text I would point to the end of perek 14, pesukim 26-31, where we learn that Moshe is told once again to stretch his staff over the sea for it to return to its normal position, which he does. The Egyptians are all drowned, as opposed to the Jews who were fortunate enough to be able to cross through on the dry land. “God saved the Jews on that day from Egypt and they were able to see the dead Egyptians on the shore of the sea. The Jews saw the great hand and they feared God and believed in Him and His servant Moshe”.
At this point the crowd breaks into a roaring round of applause, which we identify with the next perek, that of Shirat Hayam. This would be how I see the story, but it seems that there are other options.
The Exodus – The Abbreviated Version
The Gemara in Brachot mandates that we remember the exodus from Egypt twice daily. This has been adopted in our regular teffilot in the recitation of the third paragraph of Shema, the parsha of Tzitzit (which we are not reading for the sake of the tzitzit but rather for the last verse that mentions the exodus from Egypt). In addition we expand this in the bracha that follows the Shema – Emet Veyatziv in the day and Emet Ve Emunah at night- and embellish the narrative culminating in the bracha of Geula (redemption).
[Please see our shiur, http://harova.org/torah/view.asp?id=1344, where we discussed the details and the thrust of this bracha and its impact on our understanding of Shirat Hayam.]
The Gemara (Brachot 14b) relates that not all communities had the custom to recite the Shema and its brachot as we do. In Eretz Yisrael they did not recite the third paragraph of Shema nor did they say the bracha of Geula. The Gemara questions this and asks, “how did they fulfill their obligation to remember the exodus?” In response, the Gemara says that they did not have a formal bracha however they did have a shortened version that offered a synopsis.
“We thank you God for taking us out of Egypt and redeeming us from slavery and for performing miracles at the sea and we sang to you.”
When I first saw this Gemara I was very troubled by the last five words – “and we sang to you”. If we see a good play, hear an inspiring concert or witness some incredible event, when we report the event to others why would we add in the P.S. “we all applauded”? Surely the focus of the report should be the event itself and not the reaction of the crowd. Why didn’t the synopsis of the Gemara simply state “We thank you God for taking us out of Egypt and redeeming us from slavery and for performing miracles at the sea”, which would be parallel to the end of the perek 14 as described above.
I think this Gemara is highlighting an important factor about Shirat Hayam in particular and praising/thanking God in general. The outburst of the people at the sea was not simply a reaction to the wonders that they had seen but rather it was part and parcel of the redemption process. To paraphrase the famous song in the Haggadah, “Had we crossed the sea and not said the Shira – Dayainu”, but how much more so now that we did say the Shira! The Shira represents the only active role played by the Jews at the Exodus. Everything else they did was simply following the detailed instructions that they received. It was only at this point that they took the initiative and truly gave of themselves while singing the Shira.
The custom in Eretz Yisrael reflects the fact that we can only truly sum up the story of the Exodus from Egypt by adding “and we sang to you”. It is not a P.S. but rather a central, if not the central theme of the story.
This is not the only instance where Chazal stress the importance of shira. The Gemara in Sanhedrin tells us that Hashem wanted to make Chizkiyahu the mashiach but it did not work out that way because Chizkiyahu failed to say Shira.
The episode that is refered to is in Melachim and is very similar to the account of the Exodus from Egypt. At the time of Chizkiyahu, Yerushalayim is besieged by Sancherev. The future appears very grim as Sancherev has been victorious in his entire campaign including wiping out the northern kingdom –Yisrael. The Assyrian officers taunt the Jews and threaten them and there is really no viable option that seems to work.
In our parsha the nation reaches a dead end at the sea and Pharaoh scoffs at them. The people despair and see no future.
Chizkiyahu, being a very religious man, beseeches God to intervene and save the city. The prophet tells us that Hashem promised that no harm would befall the city, which seemed to be a very fanciful prediction.
Moshe tells the nation not to fear, just sit back and you will see God save us. I cannot imagine that the people were very impressed.
“And it was on that night an angel of God went forth and struck the Assyrian camp. 185,000 were struck, they were found in the morning to be dead. Sancherev traveled back to Ninveh” (Melachim Bet 19).
A truly incredible story, and as mentioned above similar to our parsha. In both places the people are not asked to participate in battles or do anything at all (It is interesting to note that Chazal say that “that night” was actually the first night of Pesach). The trouble with the story of Chizkiyahu is that the next chapter is not a Shira. The silence is deafening and reflects a lack of understanding and appreciation. The people were expected to be led by the king in praising God for such an event. The contrast to our parsha is glaring. We read that immediately upon crossing the sea the song was led by Moshe and the people.
When we thank God for all that he has done for us, when we sing out to Him recognizing that what seemed to be a problem has somehow disappeared, we have the chance to be an active part of the Geulah process. Our thanks and praise is not a reaction but rather it is its own independent action.
May we merit God’s miracles and may we be able to take an active role by opening our eyes to see the wonders and our mouths to sing the praises.