In this week’s Parsha, when the Jews finally exit Egypt (and in grand style they do), Paroh tries one last time to chase down and round up his escapees. With the Egyptians on their tails and a sea at their front, the Jews turn to Hashem. But God cuts the prayers short and tells them to march in – and they listen. With the water up to their necks God splits the sea – the Jews get the message and begin to cross. With the whole nation surrounded by anti-gravity water-walls, the Egyptians see this as their final opportunity to over-take their former servants. But Hashem would have it otherwise. The water came crashing down and in a fleeting instant the entirety of the Egyptian army was decimated. As the Jews finished their excursion they see their former taskmaster’s corpses strewn across the shore. And with that begins the song that defines the Jewish display of thanks and praise of Hashem Shiras HaYam… Az Yashir. But as we will see the entire scene was much more emotionally deep and spiritually significant than we just described.
There are a few simple questions that we need to ask, and some amazing Midrashim that we need to address.
The Passuk says ‘Az Yashir Moshe U’Binei Yisrael.” This is usually translated as ‘And so Moshe and the Jews sang.’ This is completely incorrect. Az Yashir means, ‘And so shall sing Moshe and the Jews’ – sang in the future tense. Had the Passuk said VaYashir Moshe U’Binei Yisrael then the verse would mean, ‘And Moshe and the Jews sang.’ But our structure translates into the perplexing ‘And so shall sing Moshe and the Jews.’
Fist of all, why future tense. Secondly, why say, ‘V’Az - And so they shall sing’? The verse would be complicated enough if it remained without the emphatic ‘And so shall’. ‘And they shall sing’ is confusing as it is!
On a more essential level, what’s a Shira? What is song?
Let’s move on to the Midrashim.
The Midrash says that one of the merits that got the Jews out of Egypt was Zechus of the holy mothers. What did they do? In the face of Paroh’s evil decree to kill all the children, they went out into the fields of Egypt and gave brith to their children in secret. They didn’t separate from their husbands, they didn’t abort the babies; rather they did their part in furthering the progeny of the Jewish people. But how did these babies survive? Chazal tell us an amazing thing. The Midrash says that God Himself came down, and clothed His Presence in the form of a Handsome Man. The ‘Handsome Man’ had two rocks from which He extracted nourishment to feed and sustain a generation’s-worth of field-born babies. He raised them, He clothed them, he taught them and He cleaned them. When they became old enough and strong enough to return to their homes they did – and they told their parents of the ‘Handsome Man’ who raised them.
Chazal tell us that in the moments of the splitting of the sea, when the Jews reached the other side and began to sing, they reached levels of prophecy that even the greatest of prophets throughout history could not attain. God ripped open the heavens and revealed Himself as a Strong Warrior. This generation of children, the ones raised by a ‘Handsome Man’ were there. And when they saw this vision of God in Heavens they started tugging on their parents. “That’s the Guy! That’s the Man who raised me! That’s the one who fed and bathed and taught me! That’s the Guy I told you about!” It was these children who started Az Yashir.
Another Midrash. Every Friday night after Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos we say the paragraph of Hashem Malach. In that piece we say the words Nachon Kisacha Me’Az - Your Throne was established from ‘Az’ – from then. Says the Midrash - From Az? That Az is Az Yashir. God’s Kisei, His Throne was set right when the Jews sang on the shore.
So what is Az? The Beis Yaakov of Izhbitz says that Az is made up of two letters, of an Alef and a Zayin. When the Alef connects to the Zayin we can begin to sing. Let’s try to understand what this means.
Alef in the eyes of Chazal is always a reference to Alufo Shel Olam - the Commander of the world, meaning God. The Presence that hovers over all of the creation, watching and controlling everything – that’s Alef. Zayin on the other hand is this world as we know it. The numerical value of Zayin is seven. Seven days of the week. Seven colors in the rainbow. Seven notes in the musical scale (and the list goes on…). When the Alef, when God’s presence is connected to and felt in the realm of Zayin, that harmony is song self.
Says the Sfas Emes, the word Shira comes from Shura, meaning line or beam. When things are directly in order, when I gain clear perspective of where everything belongs, when I see everything in its place, when I see God’s presence permeating my whole life, on a very personal level, then my life becomes its own theme-song.
These two concepts give us new depth in our understanding of the Trup or Te’amim, that surround the letters used for reading the Torah. These symbols that surround letters indicate exactly what tune is used when reading any given portion of Scripture. It’s brought down that these symbols, which hover around the letters represent the spiritual aspect of life. The letters which give the tune context resemble physicality (think a soul/body relationship). When the connection is made between tune and verse, between the Trup and words, the Psukkim become alive, they gain a whole new dimension. This fusion of spirituality into the physical makes the whole Torah a song.
With this we can understand why it was the children whom HaKadosh Baruch Hu raised that started the Shira. When they saw an image of Hashem in the sky, when they recognized Him as that Handsome Man who raised them; they, at that moment realized that God was such a intrinsic part of their lives. They realized that the Alufo Shel Olam was not some distant entity that lives ‘out there’ they saw that God was with them, in the Zayin of reality that they experienced - whole time. Everything made sense. The Shura of their lives finally lined up. The only reaction was to break out in song.
Now we can also understand the Midrash of Nachon Kisacha Me’Az. Says the Sfas Emes, God’s throne, His Kisei is a parable for what we would refer to as the ‘Control Center.’ That’s the place from where he pulls all the strings, where He’s running show. The word Kisei is deeply rooted to Kisui, which means covering. The processes from which God clothes His presence in the world begin at the Kisei. But if no one realizes that the all of the things in the world are being directed by something that is Kisui, then something is wrong in the place from where that Kisui is rooted, i.e.: the Kisei. When those children made that connection. When they saw that the Presence in the sky was a presence in their lives, they set the Kisei right. Therefore Nachon Kisacha Me’Az - from Az Yashir.
We’ve answered what Az and Shira are, but we still need to answer why it was all done in future tense. Says the Sfas Emes, we are dealing with future tense because really the Jews were setting a precedent. This is how we are going to react in every situation like this from now until the end of time. When we see God in our lives we’re going to turn up the stereo and party it up. We’re going to make that connection – and that connection is the song itself. From now until forever, when a Jew feels God in his life he’s not going just going to sing with his mouth -
He may not even use his mouth at all. Libi U’Besari Yiranenu L’Kel Chai - My heart and my flesh will sing to the Living God, to the God who is a part of my life. That connection itself is the song. The harmoniousness of feeling God’s presence in my life, in my physical surroundings give the world an anthem. When I open my eyes and try to be a little deeper, a little more spiritually aware, just a little more sensitive to God’s little messages my life becomes Mamesh a musical. When I realize that all of my Zayin is really preceded by an Alef it’s time to turn up the volume.
B’Ezras Hashem we should Zoche to hear this song. We should have ears that are delicate enough to hear HaKadosh Baruch Hu humming into them. Such a life is a more joyous one. Such a life is a more fulfilling one. And if we can live up to such a lofty level there is no doubt that we will achieve both of these things, moving close to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and the day of which we say about Az Yimalei Schok Pinu - ‘Then our mouths shall be full of laughter’ – the day of the Geulah Sheleimah!