Rabbi Yakov Haber
Song of the Sea: Song of Unity, Song of the Future
"Az yashir Moshe u'vnei Yisrael es hashira hazos laShem vayom'ru leimor" (Shemos 15:1). This introductory phrase to Shiras HaYam, the exalted song of praise to G-d for the miraculous splitting of the Sea and the rescue of the nascent Jewish nation from the formidable Egyptian forces, presents a grammatical anomaly. Literally translated, the beginning of the phrase reads, "then Moshe will sing", in the future tense rather than in the expected past or present tense. Rashi, in explaining the usage of the future tense, presents two explanations. The first, according to p'shat, is that his heart instructed him to sing shira as if saying, "Moshe, arise and you should sing to G-d!" The second, following the Midrash, is that the future tense indicates that Moshe will sing this song again in the future at the time of t'chiyas hameisim, the resurrection of the dead. What connection is there between the Song of the Sea and the future resurrection?
In order to answer this question, Rav Chaim Ya'akov Goldwicht zt"l, the founding Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh, presented an inspiring insight as to the nature of the miracle of the splitting of the sea and the shira sung there. The Midrash relates (Shemos Rabba 23:3):
Moshe said: "Master of the World, with that which I sinned before You, I shall praise You... I know that I sinned before You with [the word] "az", as it says, "From the time (umei'az) I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he harmed this people, and You have not saved your nation!" (Sh'mos 5:23), and [now] You have drowned him in the sea. Therefore I am praising you with [the word] "az", as it is written: "Az yashir Moshe". Come and see the way of the righteous, with that which they sin, they correct [their actions].
Normally, a correction implies acting in a different way in the same situation. How does Moshe's singing to Hashem when the Jewish people were saved from Pharaoh correct his complaining to G-d when the persecution and servitude became greater?
Shiras HaYam was more than just praise to the Creator for saving the Jewish people. It was a spontaneous outpouring of the soul reflecting the elevated state that Am Yisrael reached at that point. (Note Rashi's comment to verse 2 that the Jewish people "pointed" to the Divine Presence revealed then and the fact that even the babies and fetuses sang to G-d (Yerushalmi Sota 5:4).) In light of that exalted state, they merited for a moment the opening of the "curtain of history" masking the inner workings of Divine Providence.
To explain: On the intellectual plane, we know that "everything the Merciful One does is for the good" (Berachos 60b). But we do not always sense that on the level of experience and feeling. The different blessings pronounced on "good" news and "bad" news reflect this duality. However, in the perfect world of the future, Olam HaBa, we will praise G-d with the identical blessing of HaTov v'haMeitiv even for apparent evil. At that point, we will be able to feel and experience as well as cognitively know the latent good that was inherent in the seemingly evil events of Jewish history (See P'sachim 50a.)
The event and accompanying revelation of keriyas Yam Suf enabled the Jewish people, for a moment in history, to reach that same level of perception. They were able to sing to Hashem not only for the Exodus and miraculous salvation but even for all of the apparent evil. Moshe Rabbeinu led Klal Yisrael in this futuristic paean, singing it within the framework of Olam HaZeh - normally masked by the unclarity of our experience - since the "curtain" had been temporarily opened. Therefore, Moshe reflects back on his original usage of the word "az" when he expressed shock over apparent injustice and uses the same word at the time that he perceived how wrong he was to do so since he now realized that the seeming downturn together with all of the rest of the servitude and persecution in Egypt was just Good in disguise.
Therefore the future tense is used. This song, although sung in the past, ultimately reflects a level of revelation that will be the norm in the world of the future, the time of the resurrection.
The ancient pagans, including the Egyptians, solved the problem of the seemingly opposing forces of good and evil by inventing a god of good and a god of evil. Sometimes one was victorious; at other times, the other was. But Bnei Yisrael were shown the truth: that Hashem Echad, the Yotzeir or u'Borei Ra (Yeshaya 45:7), managed both powers in the world which were all harnessed for the good. The last verse in the Song of the Sea seems not to be part of the song. "When the horses of Pharaoh came with his chariots and horsemen into the sea, Hashem returned the waters of the sea upon them. And the Jewish people walked on dry land in the seabed" (15:19). This verse seems to just describe the timing of the song, but yet it is written in the Torah in the same unique spacing style as the Song itself and is commonly recited in the P'sukei d'Zimra every day together with the rest of the Shira. Why? Rav Goldwicht explained that this event, where simultaneously good was occurring to the Jews and evil was wrought upon the Egyptians, expressed the unity of good and evil, of one Actor bringing about both. This was the main thrust of the song: that even evil is but a tool in G-d's hands to bring about the good.
The final paragraph of Psalms consists of a description of various musical instruments being used to praise the Almighty. I once heard that this is the final song of history, when we will realize that, just as in a symphony, each instrument alone might even sound cacophonous, but, blended in with all of the other instruments, contributes to the beautiful music. So too, at the end of history, even the seemingly discordant notes of apparent evil will be understood and felt in their true form, as part of the good.
Faith and trust in the Master of Providence is a central feature of avodas Hashem. In our individual and national lives we experience moments of triumph, of success, of revealed good. But we also experience hesteir panim, apparent evil, when the world seems upside down, where evil seemingly succeeds and good seems, at least temporarily, vanquished. Yet we are called upon to constantly place our trust in HKB"H and rely on our cognitively knowing that ultimately all events are for the good. Our rich tradition also teaches us that this knowledge will ultimately be transformed into feeling and experience. Our daily recital of the Song of the Sea highlights the fact that this Song of the Future will once again become a reflection of our experience.
The mann indicated that all parnassa comes from Hashem. Even though the midbar experience was not a "regular" existence it highlighted that even for one whose livelihood is "ordinary", it is as if he is receiving the mann, sustained by G-d. Now, just as then, "the one who took more did not benefit; the one who took less did not lack" (16:18). We all get what G-d ordains for us. In essence, then, the midbar experience taught the Jewish people that even when living an "ordinary" life, there is nothing ordinary about it. It is driven by specialized Divine Providence. In a similar way, even when encountering evil and hardship in the world, the knowledge of the experience of the Shirat HaYam teaches us that that something transcendent and unique is occurring - that one is living through special Divine Providence guiding us toward the perfect world when all will be clear.
The common denominator between Hashem's providential guidance of the good and evil in our lives and His providing our sustenance is that both require reflection and thought to realize and internalize. Perhaps this allows us to link the two interpretations quoted above given by Rashi to the opening verse, "Az yashir". Our hearts have to arouse and awaken us to sing to G-d, to recognize His hand in our lives. In this way, we constantly tap in to an echo of the great Shiras HaYam, the song that will be fully relevant in the future.
These examples of living in this world but realizing that something far greater than ourselves and what we experience is happening should guide us in living a fulfilling, G-d centered life knowing that the All-Knowing Master of Providence is always there guiding everything and holding us in His Divine embrace.
Heard in a shiur at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh. Also see Asufas Ma'arachos (Shemos), Beshalach (Shira) for much more elaboration. It is presented here with some personal additions.
This might also refer to the Messianic era.
Based on this, Rav Goldwicht homiletically explained the verse, "vaya'er es halayla"," and it [the fire] illuminated the night" (14:20). At that glorious moment, the night of exile was illuminated for the Jewish people. They felt, not just knew, that all the bitter tragedies of the Egyptian bondage were indeed for the good and appreciated the beauty of even the "night".