These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 359, Three Slices of Pizza – Must You Bench? Good Shabbos!
G-d Rules Even In A Period In Which We Fail To See It
The pasuk [verse] at the end of the Shirah [The song of thanks that the nation sang after crossing the Reed Sea] says, “Hashem will reign for all eternity” [Shemos 15:18]. There is an interesting Targum Onkelus on this pasuk. The Targum interprets the verb “Yimloch” (which we ordinarily translate as future tense — “will reign”) as “his Kingship is in existence” (malchusei kaim). It is not a statement about the future — according to Onkelus — it is a statement about the present.
Rav Simcha Zissel Brody — the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva — explains a prayer that is recited daily (just before the Morning Shemoneh Esrei, Silent Prayer) based on this statement of the Targum: “With a new song the redeemed ones praised Your Name at the seashore, all of them in unison gave thanks, acknowledged Your sovereignty and said “Hashem Yimloch l’olam Va’ed” (our above-referenced pasuk). Why does our liturgy refer to this song of praise at the Reed Sea as a “new song”?
A different pasuk says about the Egyptians, “Deep waters covered them, they descended in the depths like stone (k’even)” [Shemos 15:5]. Rashi points out that we are taught elsewhere that the Egyptians sank like lead (tzalalu k’oferes) [15:10], and in still a third place that they were consumed like straw (yochleimo k’kash) [15:7]. Lead is a very heavy metal; it sinks more quickly than stone. Straw is a light material; it first floats on top and then sinks slowly. So these three verses apparently contradict each other.
Rashi explains that the pasukim [verses] are describing the fate of three different types of Egyptians. Some drowned slowly like straw. Others drowned more quickly, sinking like stone. Still others drowned almost immediately, sinking like lead. The slower the death, the more torture and pain were involved in the process. These three types of drowning deaths represented three different levels of wickedness found amongst the Egyptians. Their deaths corresponded with the way they treated the Jews during their slavery experience in Egypt.
We learn the following lesson from this Rashi. Even though during the Egyptian bondage it appeared to all the Jews that G-d had forsaken them, that was never so. Even in the period when G-d hid His Face (Hester Panim), He was still paying very close attention. He never forsakes His people, even in the time of their worst suffering. Even then, as it were, He sits in Heaven and ‘keeps score’. He remembers which Egyptians were horrible to the Jews, which were decent to them, and which were good to them. Although it may sometimes appear otherwise, G-d never abandons us. G-d is always very much interested in what happens to the Jewish people.
Rav Simcha Zissel explains that the insight of this Rashi is the same as the interpretation of the Targum Onkelus mentioned earlier: When the Jews looked back after crossing the Reed Sea and they saw the Egyptians drowning — some in a more painful fashion and some in a less painful fashion — they suddenly ‘got it’. They understood that Divine Justice was being administered. They understood that G-d was very much aware and very much in charge even in the darkest days of Egyptian bondage.
Therefore, they were able to express a new level of insight into their song (shirah chadasha). Usually we think of song as praise for the ‘nice’ things that G-d has done for us. However, the ‘new’ song was not only for the salvation, it involved praise to G-d that even in the worst times of enslavement, He was still caring about us. This praise was articulated by the words “Hashem Yimloch L’Olam Va’Ed”. As Unkelus says, this does not mean G-d WILL rule forever. It means that right now in the present — as bleak as the situation may seem — G-d’s Kingship is still ruling his world.
We think that while we are in Exile, the Divine Presence is hidden from us. The simple reading of our prayer is that we have confidence that in the future, G-d will rule and everyone will recognize His presence. The Targum is explaining the opposite insight into the prayer. Even now, we are firmly convinced that G-d is ruling and ‘keeping intimate score’ regarding all that happens.
Things May Improve At The Next Stop Down The Road
A related insight can be drawn from an incident that occurred later in the Parsha. The pasuk says, “And they came to Marah and they could not drink water from Marah because they were bitter, therefore they called the name of the place Marah (from the word ‘mar’ — bitter)” [Shemos 15:23] The people complained that they had nothing to drink. Moshe solved the problem.
Then they traveled to Elim. In Elim they found twelve springs of water and seventy date palms and they camped there by the water. The Ibn Ezra says that they spent one day in Marah and 21 days in Elim. This can be comparable to going on a trip, where the accommodations are terrible at the first stop, while just down the road is a paradise. We are bound by time and space and literally do not know what is down the road or around the corner from us. Had they known that they were only going to be in Marah for one day and that down the road was a beautiful resting place where they would stay for an extended period of time, then their attitude would not have been the same. But part of the human condition is the inability to see beyond our noses.
So many times in life, when we experience hard times, the situation improves literally overnight and all returns to normal. But while we are in our current state of mind, a situation can appear darker than dark. The Jews in Egypt felt forsaken and abandoned. “G-d doesn’t care. G-d died in Auschwitz.” For those people who suffered during World War II, it was not one day of suffering. It was not three weeks. It was many hard years. Certainly, that was also the case for the generations who suffered in Egypt. The natural inclination is to say “we are abandoned.”
But the Song by the Sea, as well as the story of Marah and Elim, remind us that sometimes the salvation is just down the road. There are situations in life are very difficult. But the salvation of G-d can come in the blink of an eye. Elim and Marah teach us that things can literally turn around on a dime.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas Beshalach are provided below:
- Tape # 041 – Israel’s Wars: 1948-1973, A Halachic Perspective
- Tape # 084 – The Mitzvah of Krias HaTorah
- Tape # 132 – Standing for Krias HaTorah
- Tape # 179 – Female Vocalists: The Problem of Kol Isha
- Tape # 225 – Music in Halacha
- Tape # 269 – Lechem Mishnah
- Tape # 315 – The Prohibition of Living in Egypt
- Tape # 359 – Making Ice on Shabbos
- Tape # 403 – Three Slices of Pizza – Must You Bench?
- Tape # 447 – Hidur Mitzvah
- Tape # 491 – The Three Seudos of Shabbos
- Tape # 535 – Using P’sukim for Nigunim?
- Tape # 579 – Being Motzi Others in Lechem Mishnah and Other Brachos
- Tape # 623 – Kiddush or Netilas Yadayim – Which Comes First?
- Tape # 667 – The Supernatural and the “Mun” dane
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