Parshas Beshalach/Shabbos Shirah
This week is Shabbos Shira, so known because the Torah portion, Beshalach, contains the exultant song of praise to G-d sung by the Children of Israel after the miraculous salvation at the Sea of Reeds (Yam Suf). In it, they gave voice to their intensely clear perception of Hashem's love for the Jewish people, and of His Power and Justice in meting out retribution to the Egyptians; the revelation of His Providence was so open that, in Rashi's paraphrase of the Midrash, "A maidservant at the Sea saw that which prophets did not see." "This is my G-d," each Jew present could say, as if pointing a finger at Him.
We commonly associate song (shira) with
melody (zemer), but the two are separate concepts. As Rabbi Avigdor Miller writes,
shira involves "the stimulation of thought by the happy enthusiasm of noble
emotions." He points out that it is related to the Hebrew word, shur, which can
mean both, seeing, and, wall, "because shira of song includes the element of insight
and the element of elevation of spirit." (Praise My Soul, p. 233) Rabbi Yosef
Leib Bloch, zt'l, in Shi'urei Da'as, writes that the intense spiritual excitement which
results in shira usually stems from the element of newness (chidush): "Perceptions
are formed in [a person] that rush to burst out, and the soul longs to break forth from
its limits and express itself in words of shira." (I, 275)
From Yonason Rosenbloom's beautiful adaptation of a classic Hebrew biography of the Gaon, HaGaon HaChasid M'Vilna, by Rabbi Betzalel Landau)
II. A STEP BEYOND
As great as their spiritual awakening the Sea was, we must admit it was not a result of their own free-willed efforts at elevation; it was a gift of chesed from Hashem. The period afterwards, from the Exodus leading up to the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, was specifically intended, by contrast, to be full of great spiritual exertion. Our teachers tell us that the Jews were meant to acquire for themselves the levels previously--and fleetingly--revealed to them during the Exodus. This is the essential significance of the period of counting the Omer even today: to build up, through our own efforts, to the level given to us (gratis) on Seder night.
So, we can't really admire our ancestors for the mind-blowing vision ("This is my G-d") they had.
But we can admire them for the decision they made to try to take a step beyond the transient experience, and make its inspiration a permanent foundation for service of G-d. This is the second part of the verse quoted at the start: "...and I will build Him a Sanctuary (v'anvehu)." The translation follows the reading of Onkelos, and the first of Rashi's interpretations: the Jews pledged to build a Temple (from the word, naveh--habitation) to be the focal point for G-d's presence in this world, to bring holiness permanently into our national life.
There are other interpretations of, v'anvehu, however. One is based on the root for the word, beauty (noi), and appears in the Talmud:
This is my God, and I will adorn him: [i.e.,] adorn thyself before Him in [the fulfilment of] precepts. Make a beautiful sukkah in His honour, a beautiful lulav, a beautiful shofar, beautiful tzitzis, and a beautiful Scroll of the Law, and write it with fine ink, a fine reed [-pen], and a skilled penman, and wrap it about with beautiful silks. (Shabbos 133b)
The Jews were declaring that they would make their service of G-d beautiful--the concept of hiddur mitzvah.
And not just with the "ritual" objects of mitzvos, but with our very selves--our character traits and personalities.
For the Talmud goes on:
Abba Saul interpreted, and I will be like him [based on the similarity to the words ani v' hu--literally, I and He]: be thou like Him: just as He is gracious and compassionate, so be thou gracious and compassionate.
To make oneself more G-dlike: the ultimate glorification (and beautification) of Hashem, if you will. And, as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes, truly the natural consequence of the declaration, This is my G-d: "He shall be...the Director of my movements...v'anvehu, and so I will offer myself to be His home. My whole existence and life shall be a Temple of His glorification..." (Hirsch, Commentary to Exodus, p. 189)
Inspiration is to be welcomed, but as our ethical masters stress, it must be made concrete in some project, declaration or commitment. This is precisely what our ancestors chose to do. They had the vision...and they pledged to make themselves a resting place for His glory. May Hashem inspire us (in davening, at home...or wherever), and may we have the strength to use that inspiration--when it comes--to dedicate ourselves more wholly to serving Him.
Edelstein is Director of the Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP). Phone:
Please be in touch
COME LEARN ABOUT THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN HAVANA, CUBA, WITH SPECIAL GUEST LECTURER, DR. HOWARD SHAW. THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4TH, AT 7:30, IN THE SOCIAL HALL OF THE BNAI BRITH JACOB SYNAGOGUE. IT WILL BE A VERY SPECIAL EVENT.
Produced and distributed by
the Ben Portman Computer facilites
This Dvar Torah page created
and hosted courtesy of