|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah-Zalman Michoel Ben Golda Mirel-Ariela Golda Bas Amira Tova
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
**Note: This D’var Torah is a re-written, much edited, and expanded version of an old one I wrote a few years ago.
בְּשַׁלַּח ● Beshalach
● How could the B’nei Yisrael have lost faith immediately after seeing the miraculous Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea? ●
With Parshas Beshalach, the climax of Yetzias Mitzrayim unfolds as Hashem split the Yam Suf for Am Yisrael, allowing the nation to march through the sea on dry land while the Egyptians in pursuit were caught in the mighty rapids and finally wiped out. The Sidrah is most famous for the B’nei Yisrael’s ecstatic response to this wonder, the emotional and prophetic, national song, known as “Shiras HaYam,” the Song of the Sea.
Chazal describe the ultimate clarity that the B’nei Yisrael experienced during those moments; that they could perceive G-d in a most tangible way as if they could point to Him with a finger as they declared, “Zeh Keili V’Anveihu”-“This is my G-d and I shall glorify Him.”1 Chazal tell us that even a maidservant had a higher level of prophetic clarity at that moment than that of Yechezkeil Ben Buzi, one of the greatest Nevi’im in history.2 All of the questions that the B’nei Yisrael had ever had were answered at Krias Yam Suf. All of their previous doubts were dispelled. The Torah testified that the B’nei Yisrael saw the “hand” of G-d, whatever that could possibly mean, and that the nation attained Emunah, a stable sense of faith, in both Hashem and Moshe.3
Considering the newfound faith and clarity that the B’nei Yisrael had experienced under the incredible conditions of Yetzias Mitzrayim, what followed is quite shocking.
Celebration Short Lived
A mere three days was all it took for the experience of Krias Yam Suf to have apparently faded away. Indeed, although we were just told that the B’nei Yisrael believed in Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu, and although everyone seemed to be utterly ecstatic at the scene of Krias Yam Suf, the whole rest of the Sidrah deals with the astonishingly bitter fallout. The B’nei Yisrael proceeded to complain about the lack of water4, and shortly after that about a lack of food.5 In doing so, they even expressed a sudden desire to return to Egypt, challenging both Moshe and G-d!
One can make the argument that since food and water are the bare necessities for survival, one can perhaps sympathize with the concerns of the people. However, it is evident that the B’nei Yisrael crossed the line here when they not only complained instead of politely requesting what they needed from Moshe. Yes, it was urgent, so they could have firmly stated their legitimate concerns. But, the words they expressed were words of protest, not mere concern. Moreover, when they even such as suggested returning to Egypt, they displayed what appeared to be a gross lack of faith in Hashem.
This seeming lack of faith and trust in the Divine Plan runs consistent throughout the latter half of the Sidrah, manifesting itself even when the B’nei Yisrael were provided food, as they refused to follow Moshe’s instructions regarding the Mann, attempting to save some of it from one day to the next and attempting to go out and collect more Mann on Shabbos.6
Thus, the same nation who “believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant,” profusely protested, arousing a genuine fear in Moshe that they would eventually stone him!7 The question is: What happened? Where had the faithful nation gone? They just had ultimate clarity! What happened to the educational experience of Exodus? Was it just undone?
Women’s Chorus, Dance, and Orchestra
Aside from the national Shirah, the Torah tells us of another song that was sung that day; it was actually the same song, but a separate shift, special for the women, as Moshe and Aharon’s older sister Miriam led all of the women responsively in their own rendition of Shiras HaYam.8 This production sparks a whole new set of questions.
- Women’s Chorus
Why was it necessary for the women have a separate sing-along? What did they need to add or emphasize right after the whole nation had just finished singing? It’s not like the women were excluded from the nationwide experience and felt the need to break away and do “their own thing.” Everyone experienced the ecstasy of Shiras HaYam together, including the maidservants, as was mentioned, who were obviously women. Why did there have to be a separate women’s chorus?
- “And they went out”
Not only did the women seemingly break away to sing their own Shirah, but the Torah specifies, “…Vateizena Chal HaNashim Acharehah”-“…and all of the women went out after her [Miriam]…”8
What does the verse mean that all the women “went out” after her? Out where? Where’d they go? Maybe the verse means that they went out from the men’s presence and earshot due to reasons pertaining to Tznius (modesty). But, is that all that was happening here? Was that really necessary?9 Maybe it’s possible, but it is still somewhat vague.
- Orchestra and Dance
Another point that the Chumash mentions is that, apparently, Miriam took a timbrel or tambourine—some musical instrument, to accompany the Shirah, and the women all did the same, and even broke out into dance. Even if we could argue that there for sure would have been issue of Tznius for them to dance in front of the men, the fact that they even provided instrumentals and broke out into dance at all, something the men did not do, would at least seem to demonstrate that it wasn’t just to get away from the men that they followed Miriam. If they had to “go out” because they were dancing, fine. But, why did they have to dance? For whatever reason, clearly, they were not merely imitating or even duplicating the national Shirah. Miriam and the women were engaging in something altogether different. They were doing something extra, taking the Shirah a step further, making it their own. Why was it necessary though? Did they have something against A Cappella? Would the Kumzitz not suffice? Why did they need a full production of song, music, and dance?
Just to recapt those last few issues: Why did the women have to sing now? What does it mean that the women “went out”? And why did they go with added music and dancing?
“Keep it moving!”
Finally, after Shiras HaYam, the Torah tells us, “Vayasa Moshe Es Yisrael M’Yam Suf…”-“And Moshe navigated Yisrael [made Yisrael travel] from the Sea of Reeds…”10
Rashi11 elaborates that Moshe had to force the people to move forward because they were still collecting loot from the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds. So, the question is what Moshe’s rush was. Let them amass some riches and then go. It wasn’t like they weren’t going to eventually move forward. Why then did Moshe have to move them against their will? What was Moshe concerned about?
Illusions of Inspiration
The sudden loss of the B’nei Yisrael’s positive attitude, tone, and morale, despite the incredible high of Shiras HaYam is indeed shocking at first glance, but if one thinks about it, it is not such an outlandish phenomenon. We wonder where the inspiration had gone and what became of their clarity and peace of mind? But, this may be the result of something which many and perhaps most people unfortunately suffer from on their way out of a inspirational experience, no matter how life-altering and positive the experience. Perhaps you can call it a post-experience sort of “depression,” but it is a feeling of bitterness that manifests itself in the desire for that inspiration, or perhaps that nostalgia that one once felt. Whatever is happening at the current moment, one yearns to return to that past uplifting moment when the moment has already ebbed away. The result is often that the inspiration and any epiphanies or convictions that came with it just easily slip away. Why does that happen?
The emotions escape because that is nature. The sensory experiences that originally triggered the emotions are over, so when they “leave,” they take the emotions with them, leaving a void. Life goes on and we tend to allow it to, maintaining mere, faded memories of that past experience. Indeed though, that was all it was, an experience—a show, a reception. The people were passive recipients of that ecstasy so that while amidst the experience, they were able break out into song and praise Hashem because they felt His Presence with them. But, if it was merely an “experience” that G-d merely showered upon them for those few moments’ time and not something they invested and toiled in on their own, then they would naturally fail to preserve it. Afterwards, it would sadly just pass them by. And so, when the experience ended, and at some point it apparently had to, they weren’t able to take the sensation with them as they ventured forward. The inspiration was like an illusion, and their post-experience “depression” was just their human response to “reality.”
The 50th Gate, Prophetic Surge, & Torah in Utero
In could be that in this vein, the Arizal teaches that when the B’nei Yisrael experienced Krias Yam Suf, they were catapulted instantly from the forty-ninth level of impurity—ninety-eight steps forward—to the fiftieth level of holiness, a level that they would be stripped of immediately after the experience. Since they did not toil in and earn that spiritual promotion, they would have to spend another forty-nine days working toward that goal themselves which they would only reach at the foot of Har Sinai.
That would also explain how at one moment, the nation had a higher level of prophecy than Yechezkeil HaNavi, and then, at the next, they were seemingly sapped of Emunah Peshutah, the simple or elementary level of faith in Hashem. They didn’t toil in their spiritual lives to earn such a level of prophetic ecstasy the way Yechezkeil did.
Perhaps it is also in this vein that Chazal teach that a fetus is taught the entire Torah in utero, only to
be made to forget it at the cusp of birth.11 The Torah knowledge granted in utero was not earned, so it would not be preserved without human toil which would only hopefully come later.
The question that is applicable to all of these examples is why G-d would grant these upgrades to us, His people, if He was just going to quickly downgrade us after? It makes the whole experience seem like a tease. What were the people supposed to gain from that?
We could make the argument that this “bait-and-switch” only caused the discouragement that followed. The inspiration was showered upon them and then taken from them, post-Krias Yam Suf. The B’nei Yisrael hovered on cloud nine until the experience washed away. Of course they lost hope afterwards!
This is the argument we might have made, if indeed, it was true. Yes, the people largely lost their inspiration and hope afterwards, but apparently, not everyone did…
Indeed, the women, we’re taught, did not engage in the rebellious acts that the nation at large did. For example, they’re given no blame for the tragic worshipping of the Golden Calf.12 How did they remain so strong?
As was mentioned, Miriam and the women took the time to engage in further Shirah, and not only sang but played instruments and danced. They somehow maintained this strong sense of faith. How did they accomplish this feat? Rashi13 explains that these righteous women had a strong sense of Bitachon or trust in Hashem and were ready to see miracles, thus, they left Egypt with instruments in hand prepared to celebrate.
In other words, the woman had already a strong sense of faith even before they witnessed Krias Yam Suf. They were not merely showered with an experience, but they anticipated it and played an active role in it. Thus, even though the entire nation had a gained a newfound faith and sense of clarity, the women were expanding on a faith they had already developed.
Now, while that might explain why the quality of the women’s Shirah was greater. But, that would not entirely explain how they were able to retain the heightened ecstasy which they attained at Krias Yam Suf. Indeed, it is hard to believe that the women had all reached a level of prophecy higher than that of Yechezkeil’s all on their own. A fair portion of the “inspiration” must have been bestowed upon them the same way it was bestowed on the nation at large. So, how did they retain the experience?
Perhaps, we can suggest that the same way that the women manifested a higher level of faith going into the Sea, they chose to take advantage of the experience, grabbing it in a way that no one else did on their way out of the experience of Krias Yam Suf. Yes, the women took tambourines and danced, a sign of their pre-developed faith. But, perhaps it was even more than that. These seemingly minor differences between the national Shirah and the women’s Shirah reveal that it did not suffice for the women to merely experience the inspiration they were given and let go of it. The experience was over, but Miriam and the women were daring to continue to carry the inspiration further. Rather than letting the experience leave them, they “went out” of the confines of that experience, incorporating their own features to the sensory experience, providing their own musical ecstasy and even engaging their physical bodies in the experience by dancing. Yes, they were awarded an “inspiration” that was not their own, but they would not rely on that “inspiration.” They conjured up their own holy “inspiration.” Since, for them, the inspiration would not be dependent on a sensory experience that they did not create, that inspiration would never ebb away and escape them.
Indeed, Miriam and the women’s faith readied them for this experience before it occurred, but it was their input and contribution to that atmosphere that enabled them to maintain their faith even on their way out of the experience.
A Painfully Long “Good-Bye”
Why did Moshe have to force the B’nei Yisrael to travel onward? So what if the B’nei Yisrael wanted some gold and silver for the road? Take some and go. Was there a reason why their lingering was a concern that needed immediate action?
Perhaps Moshe saw that their stalling at the shore of the Yam Suf was dangerous, and that apparently, to just “take and go” would never really have been enough. R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the B’nei Yisrael wanted to remain at the Sea of Reeds for as long as possible because they were afraid to leave the area where they had experienced Hashem’s bountiful blessing. It is readily understandable. The only problem is that staying there for as long as possible was not an option. Maybe there was not an immediate rush, but the experience, at some point, had to come to an end. And what would be then? When the inspiration would be gone and they could no longer savor the moment, what would they do? So long as they were merely recipients of “inspiration” that they did not instill in themselves, that “inspiration” would inevitably escape them. Merely lingering around until it happened would not help them, but only exacerbate the inevitable bitterness that would inevitably occur after the painfully long “good-bye.” Thus, Moshe had to force them forward. The problem though, was that the void of “inspiration” may have already begun taking effect.
The question then, as was raised earlier, is why Hashem would tease them with inspiration that they could not retain? Why falsely reassure the people with this illusion? Why catapult them to level fifty and award them the highest degree of prophecy?
However, in light of our larger discussion, perhaps we can suggest that really, even if the height that the people “reached” at Krias Yam Suf was not their own doing, perhaps there was something they could have gained from the experience. Perhaps, there was something for them to take forward with them that would have theoretically lasted them forever, if only they had chosen to incorporate it properly. What would it have taken though? Did they need instruments and dance moves? Perhaps those could have helped them harness the inspiration, but the true catalyst to incorporate one’s inspiration must fundamentally be some mechanism from within. How does one incorporate that inspiration so that it stays with him?
From Emunah to Bitachon
Perhaps, a construct for this “incorporation of inspiration” would be the two concepts we’ve referenced here loosely, Emunah and Bitachon, commonly translated as faith and trust. For now, we are going to move away from the common translations which can sometimes be misleading or oversimplifying.
How exactly are we supposed to understand these concepts of Emunah and Bitachon? They often seem to be used interchangeably. Are they the same? What is the difference between them? Rabbi Simcha Leib Grossbard eloquently offered the following differentiation: “Emunah is an intellectual certainty based on logic, common sense or tradition. Bitachon is the emotional state of confidence engendered by that intellectual conviction.”14
At Krias Yam Suf, everyone had Emunah! “Vayaminu BaHashem U’V’Moshe Avdo”-“And they believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant.”3 That was Hashem’s gift to them. The intellectual certainty was there. They had seen what they had needed to see. In there schema, they had achieved this concept of belief or faith in G-d.
What did the women achieve that the men did not? In the exact words of a Rashi we elaborated on earlier, “Muvtachos Hayu Tzidkaniyos SheBaDor SheHaKadosh Baruch Hu Oseh Lahem Nissim”-“The righteous women of that generation were certain [trusting, confident] that the Holy One Blessed is He would do miracles for them.”13 They developed the emotional state that was engendered by their Emunah! In other words, they developed Bitachon!
Evidently, it is not enough to have conceptual Emunah. That won’t get you through the hard times. Emunah has to be harnessed, then refined, processed, cultivated, and incorporated until one can translate the Emunah into an emotional expression of Bitachon.
Why does one need this expression of Bitachon? Because as was explained, the inspirational experience that came with Krias HaYam was only temporary. From the outset, it was designed to establish Emunah as a precident for the understanding that Hashem controls everything. The experience was miraculous! It was too unreal not to be the “hand” of Hashem! The sheer logic gave them Emunah, but perhaps this simple Emunah would only last as far as the immediate experience would. Simply observing the experience without incorporating it is like watching a film without taking its message. It was enjoyable while it lasted, but it does not translate.
Bitachon is achieved when one takes the lesson of Emunah outside the experience and applies it to “real life,” the natural world where supernatural miracles are less prevalent. It seems that although the B’nei Yisrael had conceptual Emunah in Hashem, they were not ready to apply it emotionally and nurture it into Bitachon. Thus, Hashem had to perform some more miracles, turning bitter waters into sweet waters with a tree and sending Mann from heaven. But later, Hashem would begin to weed them off of the openly supernatural miracles by having Moshe extract water by smashing a rock with his staff. Moreover, later, when another enemy, Amaleik, would attack the B’nei Yisrael, Hashem would not openly fight their war with supernatural intervention the way He did with the Egyptians, but the people would have to rely on their pre-packaged Emunah in Hashem and fight the war themselves.15
Outsmart Inspiration and Live the Dream
How to avoid the bitter feeling at the close of a spiritually amazing experience is not by lingering and just hoping that it doesn’t end. If one does that, he is falling for the illusion of inspiration. As is manifest in our Sidrah, such pitiful measures only feed the inevitable depression. One has to outsmart that inspiration and live the dream by going out beyond the boundaries of the experience, exerting himself, and recreating the inspiring atmosphere as did Miriam and the righteous women. One has to develop his Emunah into Bitachon. One who truly toils in the experience, harnesses the inspiration and incorporates it to life will find that the inspiration can always be tapped into even when the experience is apparently over. If the person takes it with him, the experience really doesn’t end.
May we all be Zocheh to not merely enjoy the spiritually uplifting and inspiring experiences, but to learn from them, take advantage of them by personally toiling in them, keeping the inspiration well intact so that we can serve Hashem with an ever growing fervor, and Hashem should allow us to live the ultimate ecstasy with the coming of the Geulah in the times of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Shirah!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Shemos 15:2 with Rashi citing Shemos Rabbah 23:15 and Shir HaShirim Rabbah 3:9
- Shemos 14:31
- 16:20-21, 27
- As it happens, in his Resposna, the Seridei Eish [2:8] ruled lineantly that men and women could sing concurrently together (when it came to Zemiros at the Shabbos table).
- Shemos 15:22
- Nidah 30B
- Tanchuma 21
- To Shemos 15:20 citing Mechilta
- See Rabbi Simcha Leib Grossbard’s Edges of Truth.
- The difference between Am Yisrael’s supernatural victory over the Egyptians and their “natural” victory over Amaleik was highlighted by R’ Yitzchak Etshalom his book, Between the Lines of the Bible – Exodus; Ch. 10; From Egypt to Sinai.