SALT - Sunday, 9 Shevat 5777 - February 5, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This shiur is dedicated in memory of
Miriam Heller z"l
whose yahrzeit falls on the seventh of Shvat,
by her niece, Vivian Singer.

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            We read in Parashat Beshalach the Shirat Ha-yam – the song of praise jubilantly sung by Benei Yisrael after the miracle of the splitting of the Yam Suf.  The Torah introduces the Shirat Ha-yam by telling, “Az yashir Moshe u-Vnei Yisrael et ha-shira ha-zot” – “Then did Moshe and the Israelites sing this song…” (15:1).

            The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 23:7) comments that after the miracle of the sea, the angels wished to sing a song of praise.  The Almighty told them that Moshe and Benei Yisrael should sing first, and only then the angels may offer their praise.  It appears that the Midrash seeks to explain this manner the seemingly unusual phrase, “Az Yashir” with which the Torah introduces the Shirat Ha-yam.  According to the Midrash, the Torah emphasizes that Benei Yisrael sang this song of praise “az,” right there and then, without first waiting for the angels to sing their song of praise.

            What might be the significance of the fact that God instructed Benei Yisrael to sing their song before the angels sang theirs?

            The Kotzker Rebbe explains that angels, unlike humans, are always prepared and ready to sing to the Almighty.  As they are perfect beings without our human foibles, they are consistent and naturally driven at all times to do the right thing.  We flawed humans, by contrast, are fickle, unsteady and inconsistent.  We can be inspired to do what is right at one moment, but then soon later find ourselves tempted and lured to act wrongly.  And thus God told the angels that their song could wait, but Benei Yisrael’s could not.  If Benei Yisrael felt inspired and driven to sing praise, they should do so immediately, without delay, before the inspiration subsides.  The angels would be just as driven to sing later, and so they needed to wait for Benei Yisrael to complete their song.

            The Kotzker Rebbe here is teaching us that we need to do the best we can under our conditions at any moment.  There will be times when, like Benei Yisrael at the sea, we will feel inspired and driven to soar to great heights.  But there will be many other times when we feel uninspired, periods when we are beset by difficult struggles and challenges, and occasions when we fail.  The implication of the word “az,” the Rebbe teaches, is that we must do “then,” at any given moment, the best we can do under those specific conditions.  Only angels are expected to do precisely the right thing at all times, to remain perfectly steady and steadfast without any failures.  We must certainly try as much as possible to be consistent and unwavering like the angels, but the reality will always remain that we are but human.  Our objective  must therefore be “az yashir,” to exert maximum effort at all times under the conditions we face, even when we cannot achieve the same results and reach the level that we could attain under different circumstances.