THEN he will sing

Az Yashir;  Then he will sing
Biblical Word Study Torah Portion of BESHALACH Exodus 13:17–17:16

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism The Red Sea
The Red Sea
צילום: PR

The words describing the song of praise after the Israelites crossed the Red sea miraculously are surprisingly described in the future tense. The words of the text "Then( AZ YASHIR) Moshe and the children of Israel sang this song to Hashem, , "(Exodus 15:1) translate more accurately “Then Moshe and the children of Israel will sing this song to Hashem", (ibid). Why would the text read this way when their singing was clearly an outburst of gratitude for of the events that had just occurred?

We had read earlier that the children of Israel leave their long period of slavery in Egypt with a sense of victory; “The children of Israel were marching out triumphantly (BeYad Ramah)." (Exodus 14:8)

Yet they are then confronted with the reality of Egypt overtaking them at the Red sea and they become frightened, A people with the  fears of an enslaved people confronting Egypt who in their oppressed experience saw as  the embodiment of a superior "master culture and race".

After the dramatic splitting of the Red sea we again read an unusual description. “On that day Hashem saved Israel from the hand of Egypt, and Israel saw Egypt ( Mitzrayim) dying on the seashore.."(Exodus 14:30).

The text does not say “Egyptians dying on the seashore ”but rather Egypt. It was Egypt and all that Egypt represented to them, that they saw vanquished on the shores of the sea.

As a result; “they believed in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant." (Exodus 14:30-31).With their fears vanquished they had the courage to move into faith.

It is then that we hear of their "Song of Praise". This song they spontaneously sang, the “Song at the Sea( Shirat HaYam) is  one of the great epiphanies of the Jewish experience and of human history . As a result of what they saw, they broke into collective prophetic singing ( SHIRA) .

 Rabbi Nehemiah (Sotah 30b)  describes the experience  in the following manner. “all the people were seized by divine inspiration and the same song (SHIRA) and words came into their mouths at the  same time." It simply poured out from their souls.

SHIRA in the context of the Biblical text represents an intrinsic intuitive understanding that sometimes events cannot be truly comprehended or assimilated simply by our intelligence and powers of logic.SHIRA can be both the catalyst and the result of the elevated state of understanding called “prophecy”.

 "When the musician played, the hand and power of Hashem came upon Elisha and he prophesied."(2 Kings 3:15)

The Midrash Tanchuma (on  Beshalach 10.) describes  ten  examples of “SHIRA” in the history of Israel. All of these were examples of the souls simply bursting into song. The ten are found in  Exodus 15:1-21, Numbers 21:17-20, Deuteronomy 31-32, Joshua 10:12-13, Judges 5, 2 Samuel 22, Isaiah 30:29 Psalm 30 and the ninth is King Solomon’s “Song of Songs”.

The tenth song, says the Midrash, will be the Shir Chadash, the “new song” of the ultimate redemption; (Psalm 96)

In all these cases these songs come out of souls that understood how close they came to oblivion or into barren wilderness. They come out of real appreciation of the hand of G-d active in our daily lives.

Yet we are struck by the fact that this song of praise at the shores of the Red Sea ( Reed Sea) are  written in  the future tense. The words that introduce the Song at the Sea “Az Yashir” are written in the future tense as are the words that quickly follow "Ashirah ; I will sing to Hashem,( Exodus 16:1).

This was to teach this people that was not only a song for that time but was in fact a  tool of redemption. This SHIRA gave d this battered people the “Power to Sing”. To Sing throughout the generations of Destiny. In the midst of persecutions and circuitous roads the people of Israel have been given this incredible power to shake the heavens.

In the tractate of Talmud (Brachot)  that is being studied in this week as part of the Daily Daf or page regiment of study we read the following statement by Rabbi Elazar. Since the time of the destruction of the Temple all the "gates" that allowed for easy entry into the Divine throne room have been closed.

The prayerful entry through those gates necessitates great and "strenuous prayer". These gates are simply metaphors for the myriads of our spiritual approaches and activities , study, piety, meditation etc..Yet all those gates have been closed except for one.  The gate of tears remains open always . "Hear my prayer, O Lord, and hearken to my cry. Be not silent to my tears, for I am a stranger with You, a dweller as all my forefathers."(Psalm 39:13).

Reb Nachman of Breslov added this powerful insight. The Gates may be closed and must be dealt with, but Song-Shira simply breaks down all the walls.

Reb Nachman writes " Get into the habit of singing a tune. It will give you renewed life and fill you with joy. Get into the habit of dancing. It will displace depression and dispel hardship...." Even if you can't sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your home. But sing."

The songs in the Temple, the tunes of prayer and the meditative niggunim (melodies) that encompass our spiritual journeys  have been the cloud of protection that has kept us moving forward

In the final days of redemption all of mankind will truly understand how close they were to oblivion and failure. They will all then recognize the power of Shira (song). As a result it will be then they will sing a new song". A song of unconditional praise and purposeful direction.

“Sing (Shiru  to Hashem a new song (Shir Chadash) , sing (Shiru)  to Hashem, all the earth ( Psalm 96:1)

Lerefuat Kol HaPtzuim ve Hacholim
Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther