Monday, March 27, 2023

Parshat Beshalach

We have—in the past—reviewed the many similarities that connect our haftarah—the story of Israel’s victory and Devorah’s song of praise—with the parsha and its story of Israel’s victory and Moshe’s song of praise. In analyzing the miracle at Yam Suf, Rav David Fohrman wonders why, after all of Israel echoed Moshe’s song of praise, Miriam must lead the women in a separate song (or, perhaps, more correctly, “refrain”). We don’t find anywhere else in the Tanach that a song shared by all—afterwards—is then repeated by only women. What was the need for Miriam to sing the praises again?

In a brilliant essay, Rav Fohrman reviews the actions of Miriam—based upon the approach of Chazal—to reveal his answer: Miriam was a believer. It was she who convinced her parents to remarry after they separated, arguing that she had a vision predicting that her mother would give birth to the future savior of Israel.

After the birth of Moshe, her father questioned the veracity of her vision when the young child had to be hidden among the reeds (“suf”) on the Nile. “What happened to your vision?” her doubting father asked. So, while her parents remained at home, Miriam—still believing in her vision—stood by the reeds to see how her vision would come to fruition. She watched as the daughter of the Pharaoh—a real threat to Moshe’s life—approached and surprisingly, fetched the baby from the Nile. Then, rather than walk away, Miriam provided a Hebrew nursemaid for the baby.

Years later, she stood at Yam Suf together with the entire nation, and saw the water threaten Bnai Yisrael, and watched the Egyptians as they approached to destroy the Israelites—realizing, then, that they now stood before the Sea of Reeds (“suf”).

In summation, Moshe was saved because Miriam had faith that a divine miracle would be performed and did everything to make sure that it would be. It is, therefore, no wonder that she who never lost faith, would sing out Hashem’s praises upon witnessing the vision that she— alone—cherished, finally, come true.

The haftarah echoes a similar theme: Rav Amnon Bazak underscores the contrast between the stories and points out that the episode described in the Torah—and the victory song as well—focuses on Hashem’s power and His victory over the Egyptians. Bnai Yisrael were mostly passive (“Hashem yilachem lachem—Hashem will fight for you while you merely need to remain silent.”).

Not so our haftarah... There, we learn how Devora gathered an army to fight the enemy and how the volunteers joined to fight and participated in the battle. Devora’s song of victory naturally praises and thanks God, but it also makes the point of praising “hamitnadvim ba’am—those who volunteered and fought.” Here, both the story and the song of victory center upon the efforts of the people who organized an army to face—and defeat—their enemy.

These two stories reflected the two different types of people: those who feared and doubted Hashem’s promises, and those who had faith in Hashem to go to war and defeat the enemy.

An independent nation with a vision for her future and with faith in her God looks to Him for the strength and courage to meet and defeat the enemy; a weak nation of slaves—who lack any vision for the future and have not yet built up their faith in God—can only pray and hope that Hashem will fight for them.

And we still, today, struggle to decide: Which nation are we?

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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