Zeh Keili v’anveihu Elokei avi v’arom’menhu (Shemos 15:2)
After witnessing the miraculous downfall and destruction of their sadistic oppressors, the Jewish people were moved to song. In their beautiful song of praise and thanksgiving, they proudly proclaimed: “This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him, the G-d of my father and I will exalt Him.”
The Targum Onkelos understands this as a declaration and commitment to build the Beis Hamikdash as a resting place for Hashem. Although this is a beautiful and lofty idea, why did it specifically occur to them to accept this project upon themselves at this time? Why wasn’t it sufficient to wait until they reached Mount Sinai, where they could receive this mitzvah together with all of the others?
The following story will help us answer these questions.
In one of the great yeshivos in Europe where the students were renowned for their extensive knowledge, the students were once eating lunch together and discussing a certain Torah topic. One of them volunteered his opinion on the subject, to which one of his peers sharply responded, “Don’t you know that what you said is explicitly written in a certain Tosafos?” Upon realizing his oversight, the first student was overcome with shame and humiliation and quickly fled the room.
The young man proceeded to spend the next several years in isolation, studying with unprecedented diligence, and went on to become one of the great scholars of the generation. There was only one problem with his actions: before darting from the room, he forgot to recite Birkas Hamazon over the meal he had been eating.
A great Rosh Yeshivah was asked for his thoughts about the propriety of the student’s actions. He responded, “While I can’t justify neglecting a Biblical mitzvah, one thing is certain. If he would have paused for the few minutes necessary to recite Birkas Hamazon, his initial burst of inspiration would have dissipated, and he would have never even made it out of the room to continue on the path that he did.”
Returning to our questions, Harav Eliyahu Mishkovsky, zt”l, notes that Rashi writes that the clarity of the Divine revelation at the Yam Suf was so great that even the lowest maidservant reached tremendous levels in seeing Hashem, levels which even many of the greatest prophets never merited reaching. The Jewish people recognized how wonderful it was to experience firsthand the spiritual heights that accompany such closeness to Hashem.
However, they also recognized that creating a building with the appropriate splendor and glory that is becoming an earthly dwelling place for the Divine presence would be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. When the time would come to broach the subject in the future, they feared that they would have lost the spark they were currently experiencing and would veto the project as too difficult.
In order to prevent this from happening, they specifically proclaimed in unison their willingness to undertake this project at a time when they were experiencing the need and value of directly connecting to Hashem. Although the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was just around the corner, the interim period would cause them to slightly forget the great joy they had experienced at the Divine revelation at Yam Suf, which would make the acceptance of this mitzvah that much harder.
We all have moments in our lives — an uplifting Torah class, a meaningful and inspiring Yom Kippur or a miraculous sign from Heaven — when we see, hear or experience something which gives us a tremendous flash of inspiration and excitement to undertake new projects. Unfortunately, the passage of time often wears away that enthusiasm and we are sadly left with nothing to show for it. The Torah teaches us that the best way to seize such moments is to make concrete resolutions to practically apply the inspiration so that we may keep it with us forever.
Parashah Q & A
Q: In the blessing said in the morning following Krias Shema, we say: “V’Yam Suf bakata v’zeidim tibata v’yedidim he’evarta va’yechasu mayim tzareihem echad meihem lo nosar — and You split the Sea of Reeds, and You drowned the wicked sinners, and You brought across Your dear ones, and the water covered their oppressors, and not a single one of them remained.” Why is it written in a manner which seems far from chronologically accurate?
A: The Moshav Z’keinim explains that when the Egyptians chased the Jewish people into the Sea of Reeds, Hashem transformed the ground under them into muddy clay, which caused them to sink and prevented them from pursuing the fleeing Jews. Only after the Jewish people had safely emerged onto dry land did Hashem instruct Moshe to return the waters to their normal position, at which time the Egyptians drowned. In light of this, the wording of our prayers is accurate, as Hashem first split the sea for us, then caused the Egyptians to sink into the ground, then brought us through the water onto dry land, and finally covered the Egyptians with the water and drowned them. Harav Moshe Shternbuch, shlita, adds that Hashem did this to enable them to cross through the sea calmly without needing to worry about the possibility that the Egyptians would catch up to them.
Alternatively, the Rokeach writes that when the water split, it first traveled throughout Egypt and drowned the wicked Egyptians who remained behind. After the Jews crossed through onto dry land, the water then returned to drown the Egyptians who had pursued them into the sea, which explains our twofold reference to the Egyptians drowning as well as the order of events.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.