April 15, 2024
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Shirat Hayam: The Song of a Nation Redeemed

The Pesach Seder is less than a week away, and I am so much looking forward to celebrating this year with my two daughters. Last year, my girls were with their father for the chag, so this year is a real treat. My daughters love to share each and every dvar Torah they learned in school, and it is pure nachas and joy.

Although the Seder, and Pesach in general, has a defined structure (I was amazed last Pesach sitting at my friend’s parent’s Seder, how similar it was to my parent’s Seder despite our families’ hashkafic differences!), every family still has their own unique traditions. Some decorate their table to look like the sea splitting and have props for the makot, others play trivia games to get the kids involved. One tradition my father has is to purchase a new Haggadah every year, so he has amassed quite the collection. Each year the Seders have a slightly different feel and theme, depending whose Haggadah he is using. I adopted his minhag and purchase a new Haggadah each year as well, but I have one primary Haggadah. And it is called “Haggadah Sheli.” It is paperback, not very fancy, and has a lot of blank space! Since my year in seminary (more than a few years ago), I selectively add a few new divrei Torah each year to my collection of favorites. One section that has remained blank all these years, but is blank no longer, is the section at the end of the first part of Hallel, when the Haggadah states: “v’nomar l’fanav shira chadasha, hallelukah, let us say a new song before him, hallelukah.” There are many famous songs from Tanach, but the song recited as we were leaving Mitzrayim is famous, with everyone participating—men, women with their tambourines, and children. It was a universal experience shared by all, even fetuses in their mothers’ wombs sang the song at the Red Sea, according to the Gemara.

In our daily morning prayer we recite Shirat Hayam from Sefer Shemot 15:1, or “Az Yashir Moshe,” which commemorates the redemption as we were taken out of Egypt. This is not the first time that the word “Az” appears in the story of the Exodus. In Shemot 5:23, the same word appears in a conversation between Moshe and God. After requesting from Pharaoh that Bnei Yisrael be permitted to go out into the desert to serve God, Pharaoh punishes Bnei Yisrael by taking away their straw to make bricks, but still requires the same amount of work be done. The pasuk states: “u’maaz baati el Pharaoh…, Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people”.

In case we didn’t see the connection between our pain and suffering and the redemption that followed, with just two letters, aleph and zayin, the connection is made. The shira that we sang on the sea is complete—it did not begin when we left Mitzrayim, the shira began much earlier, during the time of our greatest suffering and pain.

The shira captures the totality of the experience. When we sing to God, we understand that we cannot sing praise without encompassing the pain and suffering that preceded it. The shira itself is the realization that geula, or redemption, is not something that stands on its own. It is a direct outcome of the galut, exile, that came before it. There can be no geula without galut.

Singing shira allows us to express in a most deep way, from the soul, our recognition of the present geula, and acknowledges that the anxiety, pain and suffering that we have experienced leading up to the redemption, our own personal galut, was also part of God’s master plan.

As we progress through the holiday, there will be much singing and rejoicing. Each time we praise God through song and prayer, whether on Pesach, or throughout the year, what a beautiful reminder from our first song that we sang as a nation in the very moment of our redemption, that everything Hashem does is for us, is His expression of love for us and is part of His plan for us.

Wishing all a chag kasher v’sameach.

*Special thanks to Rachel Margolies for sharing this dvar Torah at a recent leil iyun in Los Angeles.


Alanna Apfel is the founder and a Mental Health Patient Advocate at AA Insurance Advocacy. AAIA helps patients, individuals, couples and children negotiate coverage and reimbursement for out of network mental health services, including psychotherapy, psychiatry services and neuropsych testing. Reimbursements range from $150-$650 per session.Our clients have received anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 a year in reimbursements, depending on the cost and frequency of therapy. For further information, please contact [email protected].

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