Then sang Moshe and the Children of Israel this song to HASHEM, and they said the following: “I shall sing to HASHEM for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse and its rider into the sea. (Shemos 15:1)
It may seem subtle and overly cerebral but it shouts out for attention. Here is an odd albeit poetic portrayal of the Egyptian elite army that foolishly pursued the Children of Israel into the split sea and drowned. Their tragic flaw, their fault line is identified by “horse and its rider”. In modern terms it might not be so strange to speak of “the car and its driver”, but imagine we are talking now about a horse and a rider. Who’s under control and who leads whom in the relationship? Is it the horse or the rider that is dominant? What does that tell us about Egyptian society from whom the Children of Israel had just escaped? Now, in a liberated state they could see clearly and sing a song with newly acquired clarity about their captures. What is that clear perspective?
The Orchas Tzadikim describes the relationship between the body and the soul as a rider and a horse. The animal nature and the G-dly soul have differing agendas and tendencies. While the horse wants only to run wildly horizontal, and feed its appetites the rider wishes to climb vertically and unravel the secrets of the universe. Whoever wins the struggle claims, as a political party a mandate to make the rules!
The Talmud (Brochos 8B) quotes Rabban Gamliel as stating, that there are three things he loves about the Persians. Each of the three things has something to do with modesty, and amongst them is “modesty in eating”. What does that mean? The Asifas Zekenim cites a commentary named Gevul Binyamin who in turn cites secular sources on this point. These sources describe a Persian custom practiced at their banquets: When the guests were seated, before the meal was served, two servants would approach each holding a silver tray. The servants would bow and place the trays on the table and leave. On one tray was a rein and on the other was a scale. These two objects were meant to recall to the participants two important considerations while they ate. A) Some of the guests might have an-intolerance to one or more of the dishes served based on their individual metabolisms. Thus the person should restrain themselves as a rein restrains a horse, and completely avoid these harmful foods. B) Every guest should take care regarding how much he eats, even if a dish is not harmful, because overeating is unhealthy. One should therefore “weigh” what he consumes as one weighs items on a scale. (Artscroll Gemora)
When one continuously capitulates to his desires for food or whatever and the neighing of the horse has the dominant voice in the congress of his mind then “horse and its rider” becomes a fitting description. If he manages to subdue and gain consistent mastery over his passions, how then is he to be described?
A famous Rabbi in our community who is also a successful psychologist was once giving an address at a convention of fellow psychologists. In his remarks he mentioned a few times the word “soul”. After the talk he found himself surrounded by a swarm of confrontational colleagues. One rhetorically and mockingly queried, “Doctor, you don’t believe you have a soul do you?!” The good Rabbi answered, “You are right! I don’t believe that I have a soul.” They felt vindicated- till he quipped, “I have a body. I am a soul!” DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.