Towards the beginning of “Az Yashir,” the song of praise sung by Benei Yisrael after the miracle of the splitting of the sea, they proclaim, “Zeh Keli ve-anveihu, Elokei avi va-aromemenhu” – “This is my God and I shall glorify Him; the God of my father, and I shall extol Him” (15:2).
The Gemara, in Masekhet Shabbat (133b) and elsewhere, cites the first clause of this verse – “This is my God, and I shall glorify Him” – as the source for the well-known requirement of hiddur mitzva – to aesthetically enhance our observance of mitzvot. The word “ve-anveihu,” the Gemara asserts, can be read as a derivative of the word “na’eh” – “beautiful” – and thus refers to the “beautification” of mitzvot through high aesthetic standards, such as by wearing beautiful tefillin and a beautiful tallit, constructing a beautiful sukka, and so on.
Clearly, on the level of peshuto shel mikra – the straightforward meaning of the text – the word “ve-anveihu” refers to praise, as it parallels the word “va-aromemenhu” (“I shall extol Him”) in the second clause of the verse. How might we explain the connection between the straightforward meaning of the verse and its halakhic denotation?
It is not often that we are moved and inspired to erupt in song and praise to the Almighty. Rarely do we experience the kind of exuberance and excitement that led our ancestors to sing “Az Yashir.” And if we try to arouse such emotion within ourselves, it is likely to be an artificial feeling that we attribute to religious zeal but really has little to do with our connection to God. Chazal here perhaps teach us that when we do not genuinely feel moved to “ve-anveihu,” to express real emotion, then we should instead devote our attention to “hiddur mitzva,” to raising the standards of our mitzva observance. The experience of “ve-anveihu” – the outpouring of spiritual joy and exuberance – certainly has its place, when we are truly and genuinely moved and overcome by emotion and by a sincere feeling of love for, and awe of, our Creator. At other times, however, rather than trying to produce artificial feelings of spirituality, we should express our dedication to the Almighty through “hiddur mitzva,” through patient, thorough and rigorous engagement in each and every mitzva that comes before us.
Chazal’s interpretation of “ve-anveihu,” then, reflects the balance that we need to maintain between emotion and deed, between the outpouring of spiritual feelings and the careful, disciplined and detailed attention to mitzvot.