SALT - Sunday, 5 Shevat 5778 - January 21, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Towards the beginning of Shirat Ha-yam – the song of praise sung by Benei Yisrael after crossing the sea, they exclaimed, “Zeh Keili ve-anveihu” – “This is My God, and I shall glorify Him” (15:2).  The Mekhilta, cited by Rashi, interprets this verse as indicating that Benei Yisrael saw at that time a revelation of the Almighty, such that they could point with their fingers and proclaim, “This is my God!”  This revelation, the Mekhilta adds, was so clear that “a maidservant saw at the sea what Yechezkel, the son of Buzi, never saw.”  Even the simplest members of Benei Yisrael withheld a revelation of God at the time of this miracle that exceeded in clarity the visions of the prophet Yechezkel.
            The Netziv is cited as offering a novel reading of the Mekhilta’s comment to explain the specific reference to the “maidservant,” the simplest and least knowledgeable members of the nation.  If a person “points” to God only in times such as Keri’at Yam Suf, upon seeing an overt miracle when God’s existence and power are unmistakably clear, then such a person is simpleminded.  According to the Netziv’s reading, the Mekhilta here is teaching that it is only the “maidservant,” the simpleton, who needs a miracle in order to be able to declare, “This is my God, and I shall glorify Him.”  The intelligent believer trusts that God is present and managing the world and all our affairs under all circumstances, even when His hand is concealed and cannot be discerned.  According to this creative reading of the Mekhilta’s comment, its intent is not to extol the greatness of the simplest members of Benei Yisrael, who beheld a direct revelation of God at the time of the miracle of the sea, but rather to subtly criticize those people who proclaim, “Zeh Keli ve-anveihu,” enthusiastically declaring their desire to serve and praise the Almighty, only when His presence is clearly felt and manifest.
            We might add that this reading may perhaps shed light on the Mekhilta’s reference to the prophet Yechezkel.  (It should be noted, however, that Rashi, in paraphrasing the Mekhilta’s comment, does not specifically mention Yechezkel, and says merely that the maidservants saw more than “the prophets.”)  The simplest reason why the Mekhilta points specifically to Yechezkel is because Yechezkel gives the most vivid and detailed description of a vision of God that appears in the books of the prophets (Yechezkel, chapter 1).  Therefore, the Mekhilta tells that the maidservants at the shores of the Yam Suf beheld even a greater prophetic vision than the remarkable vision described by Yechezkel.  Additionally, however, we might suggest that Yechezkel is mentioned because of the unique circumstances surrounding his prophecy.  Yechezkel is known as the only prophet (after Moshe) who received prophecy outside the Land of Israel.  He was taken to Babylonia during the first stage of the Babylonian exile, during the time of King Yehoyakhin, and it was there, in exile, far from Eretz Yisrael, that he beheld his prophetic vision.  He received prophecy when God seemed distant from the Jewish Nation, and several of his prophecies were aimed at dispelling the misconception that the Babylonian exile marked the permanent end of God’s special relationship with Am Yisrael.  One of the important themes of Yechezkel’s prophecies is that God still seeks and expects our commitment and devotion in conditions of exile, even when it appears as though He has rejected us and has abandoned the special covenant He had made with the Jewish People.
            It is perhaps for this reason, according to the aforementioned reading of the Mekhilta’s comment, that the maidservants at the sea are contrasted specifically with the prophet Yechezkel.  These simple people beheld a vision of God at a time of miraculous triumph, when they saw very clearly how He meted out punishment against their oppressors who persecuted them for centuries.  The revelation of God which they experienced marked the diametric opposite of the vision beheld by Yechezkel, who saw the Israelite kingdom crumbling, who experienced firsthand the humiliation and pain of being led out of his homeland by a brutal pagan emperor.  Simple, small-minded people see the hand of God only at the shores of the sea, in moments of great joy and celebration, when His presence and His love for us is clearly felt.  Great people, however, such as Yechezkel, are capable of beholding God’s presence, of maintaining their relationship with Him, even in periods of darkness and hardship, and firmly trusting that under all circumstances, God continues to love and care for His cherished nation, and we must likewise continue to devotedly and faithfully serve Him.