Parshas Beshalach - A New Song
אָ֣ז יָשִֽׁיר־משֶׁה֩ וּבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה וַיֹּֽאמְר֖וּ לֵאמֹ֑ר אָשִׁ֤ירָה לַּֽיהֹוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה ס֥וּס וְרֹֽכְב֖וֹ רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם:
"Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and they spoke, saying, I will sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea." (Shemos 15:1)
The above translation of the passuk is wrong. Like most translations, the translators made a correction so that the passuk would make sense. In doing so we lose some of the important subtleties that lie beneath the surface of the text.
The accurate translation is, "Then Moses and the children of Israel will sing this song to the Lord, and they spoke, saying, I will sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea." The problem with this translation is that there is a clear grammatical error. The Torah is teaching us what happened in the past, not what will will happen in the future? Why does the Torah tell us about a song that will be sung as opposed to the song that was sang at the Yam Suf?
Rashi based on the Medrash and the Gemara explains, "Our Rabbis of blessed memory stated: From here is an allusion from the Torah to the resurrection of the dead (Sanhedrin 91b, Mechilta)."
Rashi is explaining that there is a song that has yet to be sung but after techiyas hameisim, the resurrection of the dead, it will be sung. But in truth, Rashi leaves us with more questions than we started with. Why here, of all places, does the Torah allude to techiyas hameisim? What is the inner connection between song and the resurrection of the dead?
Why was Klal Yisrael singing at all? They have emerged victorious and have been redeemed from Mitzrayim, is this the time for a choir? Travel on to Har Sinai and receive the Torah. If this sounds like a cold litvishe question it is because it is. What is the value in singing at this time?
The Power of Music
The Alter Rebbe taught, “If words are the pen of the heart, then song is the pen of the soul.” The beauty of music is that it expresses that which words alone cannot. There is something romantic and soulful about music. When someone expresses themselves through music, when they allow the song to flow through them, they can say so much more than the words that come out of their mouths. Saying the words "I love you" is always special. When we hear those words we can deeply appreciate the sentiment that is being communicated. But when those same words are sung to us, it can move us to tears. It becomes much more than a sentiment. It is as if we are holding on to another persons soul and that is a gift that is without measure.
The Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim, Guide for the Perplexed, teaches that prophets would listen to music so they could achieve a state of soulfulness and receive prophetic visions. Music opens up the gateways of a person, it expands our consciousness, it moves us a to dimension that transcends the daily grind in which we live.
Having seen the miraculous delivery from Mitzrayim, Klal Yisrael is moved to song. Words alone could not capture the essence of what they were feeling. This was not a carefully planned performance. There were no practices, dress rehearsals and four part harmonies. There were no stages, curtains and lights. Chazal teach us that even the simple maidservant who participated in Krias Yam Suf experienced a level of prophetic visions that exceeded those of Yechezkel ben Buzi. Even a fetus in his mother's womb experienced nevua. As for the latter statement, Mori ViRabi Rav Yehuda Parnes shlit"a explained that we know that the fetus is impacted by the experiences of the mother. The experience of Krias Yam Suf and the prophecy that inhered in that experience was so powerful that it went to the core of this pregnant woman, even impacting her fetus. Such was the nature of the Splitting of the Sea. There will be a time for journeying on to Har Sinai and Kabbalas HaTorah. There will be a time for preparing to shift from being a family to being a nation on a mission from God. But for right now all there could possibly be is song. The transcendent experience of giving language to that which is beyond words. Giving speeches to express our gratitude to Hashem could never have been enough. Music is the pen of the soul.
Coping with Loss
There is one important detail, one critical aspect of the story, that we are leaving out. Was Klal Yisrael really in such a state of ecstasy? Was there true unbridled joy as Hashem destroyed their Egyptian overlords?
Imagine yourself as a prisoner in Auschwitz. You have been tortured on a physical, emotional and spiritual plane. But more than that, you are alone in the world. Your family has been wiped out. The world you knew has been destroyed. You wake up one morning and see that the Nazi guards have fled. People are wandering about the camp aimlessly when you hear a noise in the distance. You walk to the chain link fence and you see that the American army is approaching. You have been liberated. You're free from the nightmare you have been living. Are you happy? Of course. You survived. You made it through. But are you filled with excitement? Is this the greatest day of your life? You start to think to yourself, what now? Where will I go? How do I rebuild my life? Can I leave this hellish existence behind and start over? And with whom will I do it? Everyone who loves me has perished.
The Belzer Rebbe explains that this was the challenge facing Klal Yisrael at the moment of their redemption. On the one hand they were filled with joy as they watched the Hand of God smite the mighty Egyptian army. Their oppressors were annihilated in a miraculous fashion. But on the other hand, they lost so many loved ones. Eighty percent of the Jews perished in Makkas Choshech, the plague of darkness. How do we move on? How do we rebuild?
Hope is Everything
The concept of an Messianic resurrection of the dead seems like pure fantasy to some. When you die you are dead. In Judaism we see life in a more complex fashion. Alive is the condition when body meets soul. The soul is eternal. Just because the body is no longer borrowing life from the soul doesn't mean that the show is over. Death is a temporary state. The soul is not impacted by the death of the body. The soul lives on and we see it as one of the pillars of our faith that one day the soul will rejoin the body and delight in the pleasure of the World to Come.
But this is not just philosophical. This is the secret to Jewish survival. Jews are not necessarily known to be the most optimistic people. History has taught us that there will be many ups and downs. We are however an exceptionally hopeful people. The future is assured. Mashiach is coming. While the plot is painful, the ending is certain. God has not abandoned us. God is not impacted by the doings of this world and He will one day reveal his ultimate plan. And in that time, when the infinite power of God is revealed, the souls that have passed on will return to this world. Death is not the end. It is an extended pause. Painful as it is for those who have been left behind, it is comforting to know that one day we will all rejoice together.
This is the message of Az Yashir, the message of the song that will one day be sung in the times of Mashiach. It is a song of hope. The first part of the song is sung at the banks of the Yam Suf and after a very long interlude we will one day sing the last stanza together. The message to Klal Yisrael was clear. Our losses are incalculable. The pain we suffer because of those who are no longer with us is beyond measure. But hope lives on. There will be a time when we are restored to our state of completion. Right now the song may seem disjointed and cut off but know that this song is far from over. And when we do finally arrive at the last stanza “All the world will sing a new song.” The song we are singing right now has a duality to it. We live with the pain of those we have lost while we remain hopeful for the future. The last stanza of thing song has an entirely different cadence. It is the song of oneness. When we see how everything was part of God's plan, when He and His Name are restored to glory in this world, we will see the restoration of all that was lost in the process. May we merit to sing this song speedily in our days.