I hope this note finds you all well.
A well-known Talmudic passage (TB Megillah 10b) describes the scene in heaven as the Jews miraculously crossed through the sea. The angels wished to sing their own song of praise to G-d for the miracle of our salvation, but G-d objected: “My handiwork – the Egyptians – are drowning in the sea and you are singing?!” So, the angels did not sing, v’lo karav zeh el zeh kol halayla.
Yet, we, the Jewish people sang, and our song was precious, divinely inspired, and immortalized such that we repeat it every single day in its entirety and invoke its central lines before we pray the Amidah each morning and night. What is the difference? Why could people sing when the angels could not?
Rav Shimon Schwab offered a meaningful explanation. This was a complex moment that involved both celebration and grief. The Jews, as people, would need to learn to live with and even embrace this kind of complexity. We would need to sing over our salvation even as we remained aware of the sadness of the concurrent loss on the enemy side. Angels, on the other hand, are not built for complexity. Each angel has one exclusive mission (Bereishis Rabba 50:2) and does not know how to multitask either practically or emotionally. They were incapable of singing and crying simultaneously, rejoicing for our salvation while crying over the loss of G-d’s creations.
That is one approach to the question. In the spirit of embracing complexity, let us consider another.
The angels were not a party to the conflict playing out at the sea. From their perch in heaven, they observed objectively what was unfolding in the world below. They saw the Jews emerge and the Egyptians drown, and their joy for the one side was offset by the tragedy on the other. The Jews on the other hand made no claim on objectivity. We had been enslaved and afflicted by the Egyptians and now we were free, and so of course we would sing and express our personal and national gratitude. We had to be joyous. There is no value in an objectivity that detaches us from our own experience.
One of the core issues around the modern State of Israel is the tension between its Jewish and democratic values. In truth, even our Jewish values compel us to be hospitable and respectful towards every human being, Jew and non-Jew. Darkei Shalom, the Torah’s pathway of peace, guide us to be charitable and compassionate to every person in need. But universal respect and compassion do not supplant personal and national commitment. There is no virtue in our striving for an objectivity that reduces our allegiance to each other, to building Jewish life and supporting our fellow Jews.
Angels are objective, but people celebrate relationships. We must be universally kind and caring but exceptionally committed to each other and to the Jewish future.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Moshe Hauer