Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
Parshat Beshalach relates the epic narrative of the splitting of the Red Sea, the drowning of the Egyptian pursuers, and the subsequent burst of song praising Hashem for this salvation as Bnei Yisroel watched the Egyptians and their chariots drowning in the Sea. At that point, "Vayiru ha'am et Hashem vaya'aminu BaHashem.../the nation revered Hashem, and had faith in Hashem..."
But wait, when Moshe approaches Bnei Yisroel and tells them of their impending salvation, even before the onset of the plagues, the Torah specifically says, "Vaya'amein ha'am/the people had faith." What was the difference between the earlier belief and this one that inspired Bnei Yisroel now to burst out in song whereas before they were mute?
On the simplest level, we can easily understand that Bnei Yisroel's faith was strengthened with the culminating miracle of their salvation, but now it was also a faith and reverence of a higher level than it had been earlier. As Rabbi Schwadron says, citing the Rambam, everyone, even though they may deny it, knows intuitively that God exists, that ink didn't spill on a piece of paper and create a beautiful poem when the poet left the room for a few minutes. There must have been someone who picked up the pen in the interim and wrote the words. People may want to believe that the world had always existed, that there was no Creator, and that the world continues to exit because Nature has so decreed its laws.
As Rabbi Schwadron points out, the intellect knows there is a Creator, but the heart refuses to accept this. In fact, had the world not known this in the depths of their wisdom, antisemitism, the by product of Jews being the chosen of a God they would deny, would cease to exist. But the heart has many desires, and when the heart and the intellect are in conflict, we rationalize, and the desire of the heart usually wins. To the extent that we can subdue our desire, that's how strong our emunah/faith is in the Supreme Being.
It is for this reason, writes Rabbi Schmeltzer in The Heart of Emunah that teaching our children about God cannot be limited to imparting knowledge; it must involve experiences that generate love of the Creator, love that will penetrate the heart and cut through intellectual blockages. We must involve our children and our students in a joyous relationship with God, with His Torah and mitzvoth, rather than as an onerous partnership.
This is the difference between the two believing’s, the earlier faith in Moshe's telling Bnei Yisroel that they would be redeemed and the faith now achieved at the splitting of the Sea, Rabbi Schwadron notes. While Bnei Yisroel earlier understood intellectually that they were to be redeemed, that realization remained in the mind, never entering their hearts. In fact, as their burdens grew heavier, it became even harder to relate to God and His message.
As Tallelei Chaim the Chaban observes, at the splitting of the Sea, Bnei Yisroel experienced not only their own salvation, but also physically saw their oppressors drowning. Bnei Yisroel had been taken out of Egypt; now Egypt was taken out of them. Not only were they physically free, bow they were also psychologically free. To become true servants of Hashem, we must free ourselves from the entrapments and desires of the world that hold us in their grip.
The greatest work in this regard, continues the Chalban, is to extricate ourselves from ourselves, to let go of the sense of entitlement and arrogance that we are actually in control. My heart, my desires become stronger than my intellect, and I become a slave to my Self, to my desires or to actual addictions. We have to be ready to see God's light in every aspect of our lives. As the Kotsker Rabbi responded to one of his disciples who asked where he could find God: "Wherever you let Him in."
That Bnei Yisroel continued to fear the Egyptians as the Egyptians pursued them showed a lack of faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu; Bnei Yisroel was ascribing greater power to the Egyptians than to God. That's why the angels recommended that Hashem not save Bnei Yisroel. After all, they argued, the drowning Egyptians are worshiping other gods, but, in fearing the Egyptians, so is Bnei Yisroel. When Bnei Yisroel can remove that fear and recognize Hashem as the only Power, their faith is strong enough to sing, to proclaim with absolute clarity, "This is my God and I will glorify Him."
Both the simpleton who has faith purely out of habit and the intellectual who believes only through rational deduction are in spiritual darkness, writes the Sifsei Chaim. The simpleton is blinded by ignorance and the intellectual is blinded by so great a light that he too is paralyzed. We must remove ourselves from the darkness and go toward a world of light, of acting on our belief. In Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel's belief was blind faith in darkness. After the splitting of the Sea, Bnei Yisroel achieved a higher understanding of Hashem and of the role of Moshe His servant who would transform that knowledge into action through teaching us Torah and mitzvoth.
Man was created with two powerful forces within him. the intellectual mind and the emotional heart. One may "know" a truth with either the heart or the mind, yet total knowledge is only achieved when the two are fused and knowledge becomes internalized, writes R Weingerg. As a simple example, when we see a "Wet Paint sign," most of us feel the urge to reach out and touch and smell the paint, to have our senses validate emotionally what we already know intellectually. Our challenge is to live our faith with every fiber of our being, to praise Hashem with every breath we take.
In Darchei Mussar, Rabbi Nieman presents a wonderful analogy from Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm. Picture a man who has never tasted bread. A philosopher approaches him extolling the wonder of bread, presenting him with multiple studies that prove that eating bread is very satisfying. Along comes a second philosopher who now presents studies that prove the exact opposite. Once the man eats bread and feels satisfied, no arguments to the contrary will influence his belief that bread is indeed satisfying. It is the physical experience that cements the belief.
Taking it one step further, Rabbi Nieman now presents another incident. A disciple once tells his Rebbe that he doesn't believe, and asks the Rebbe if he believes. The Rebbe points to the table and asks his student if he believes that is a table. The disciple answers, "I don't have to believe; I know it's a table." "Just so," respond the Rebbe, " I don't have to "believe" in God; I know God."
This was the level of faith Bnei Yisroel reached on the shores of Yam Suf, a level so strong that it was palpable, that they could point and say, "THIS is my God..." Then they reached an even higher, emotional level, connecting their entire existence with all their senses to this God Who is also the God of my fathers, writes Rabbi Sternbach.
Interestingly, When Hashem led Bnei Yisroel through a long, circuitous route out of Egypt, Bnei Yisroel didn't complain even though they knew that the Egyptians would pursue them. It was only now, seeing the Egyptians in actual pursuit, that their emotions kicked in, they were afraid, and cried out, notes Rabbi Schrage Grosbard. First comes emunah/faith. Yirah/awe, fear, comes with reiyah/seeing, the involvement of the senses, and becomes emotional. [As the great commentator and poet Ibn Ezra writes: "Libi uvesori yeranenu leKel chai/My heart and my flesh will sing out to the living God." At the splitting of the Sea, every fiber of their bodies sang out to Hashem. CKS]
The women had already internalized this emotional, experiential faith. They too burst out in song. They accompanied themselves with tambourines they had taken as the exited Egypt, already knowing within the essence of their being that they would need to sing.
It is not enough to study the laws of Shabbat, the rituals of prayer. We must immerse our children in the experience of Shabbat, model with them the awe and love of Hashem's presence we feel in the shul.
The splitting of Yam Suf was all about love, writes the Slonimer Rebbe in Netivot Shalom. Hashem constantly calls us His children, and the medrashim point out the details that reinforce that love: Each tribe had its own path, yet the "walls" were transparent; the "walls" sprouted fruit so the mothers could give their children sweet fruit (and eat themselves, if they so desired). In this kind of relationship, the yirah/awe inspires yirah/fear, our fear is that somehow we will disappoint our Father Who loves us so.
The buzz word that introduces the shira/song appears several other times in this paean of joy, writes Rabbi Belsky. Oz/Then Moshe and Bnei Yisroel sang. The other nations also experienced these wonders, for oz/then the princes of Edom trembled and the lords of Moav were stricken with trembling. While awe-stricken Bnei Yisroel were moved to sing praises to Hashem, the other nations were filled only with emptiness and futility.
Each of us has events in our lives that shake us up emotionally. Some are positive events and some are negative. Yet we can find within each event some element that can bring us closer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Take that feeling, that initial jolt, and concretize it with a resolution, with an action When your brain intuits an unusual happening, recognize God's mighty, though gentle hand. Breathe in the experience, reach out to others, and let your spirit sing praises to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.