Chag HaPesach: The Ability to Sing

Chag Ha’Pesach 5782, Zman Chei’ro’seinu – the time of our freedom – the holiday of redemption when we celebrate the great Exodus from Egypt that give birth to our nation.  

And yet, the past two years – and the most recent months and weeks – have been a time of great upheaval.  The covid pandemic tore its way through the world, leaving us astounded and bewildered for the past two years, with many families bereaved and reeling.  The instability in the political arena frightens us all – for history has proven time and again that an unstable world is bad for the Jews. The ongoing Russian attack and war on Ukraine, its global effects, ramifications, and particularly its effects on acheinu Bnei Yisrael and the Jewish refugees, have left us shocked and appalled.  The recent petriah of Maran Sar Ha’Torah Ha’Gaon Ha’Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt’v’k’l, have left us in mourning and tears.  And the recent wave of terror attacks in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem yerachem aleinu!, have caught us off guard, with tefilos on our lips, trepidation in our hearts, and a collective national mourning for the innocent victims brutally cut down.  

Indeed, b’chol dor va’dor omdim aleinu li’cha’lo’seinu – in each and every generation, they arise to destroy us, and HKB”H saves us from their hands.

In the Maggid section of the Haggadah, right after we recount the Eser Makkos – the Ten Plagues – we speak of the miracles and salvation at Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds.  The Haggadah records the pasuk from Shemos: וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה ה’ בְּמִצְרַיִם, וַיִּירְאוּ הָעָם אֶת-ה’ וַיַּאֲמִינוּ, בַּה’ וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ – And Israel saw the great hand that Hashem did against Egypt; and the people revered Hashem and they believed in Hashem and in Moshe his servant (Shemos 14:31).  The Haggadah then launches into a discussion of how many makkos (plagues) Hashem brought in Egypt and how many at Yam Suf.

Furthermore, in the hymn of Dayeinu, ‘it would have sufficed for us’, we thank G-d for the splitting of the Reed Sea.  

The splitting of the Reed Sea was on the seventh day of Pesach, which known as Shvii Shel Pesach.  After experiencing the great salvation at the sea, the people sang a song of thanks and praise to G-d, known as “Az Yashir” (Shemos 15).  And so, on Pesach we commemorate, not only the wondrous salvation, and not only the makkos at Yam Suf, but the response of the nation as they sung their thanks to G-d. 

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm z’l powerfully teaches, in words that are as relevant to our times of upheaval as when they were penned decades ago: “The seventh day of Passover, the day on which the Reed Sea split, is one on which we read the reaction of the Children of Israel: that of 

shira, song.  I imagine that the Children of Israel were in no mood to sing, despite the miracle.  Consider what they had gone through, how many of their family and compatriots had been lost during the Ten Plagues, how frightened they were, how overwhelmed they still must have been by the terrible tragedies which confronted them and which they so narrowly averted.  It was a time, perhaps, to breathe a sigh of relief, but hardly one in which to sing.  Yet that is precisely what they did!

“Perhaps this is what the Rabbis meant when they said that the marriage of a person is as difficult as the splitting of the sea – that marriage, despite its problems and tensions, its difficulties and demands, must be characterized by shira, song and joy.  Sometimes people are fortunate, and the source of their felicity is external; it comes to them from without.  As such a time, simcha, happiness, just happens and a family can erupt in shira.  But that is not the usual case.  Usually, a happy family is one that creates its own happiness.  It sings – and thereby evokes the happiness that it seeks.  This is not only a question of marriage, but of each individual as well…

“It indicates an important idea: that happiness is not necessarily something that happens to a person, but something that one can create by an act of will.  It can be induced internally, as well as ‘happen’ externally.  We are not necessarily at the mercy of passing moods… we are not passive pawns who can be moved about… without protest… If we are human beings, if we possess a modicum of dignity, then we can take our lives in our own hands, and, at least to a large extent, determine whether we shall be happy or miserable…

“A person has a right to expect happiness… but he has no right to expect that good fortune will be his or hers at every step, while he passively rides on the crest of euphoria.  It is his and her task and obligation to get and give happiness, even if it has to be fabricated selectively out of the raw material of experience and circumstances.

“The same holds true for the relationship of G-d and Israel.  The marriage metaphor teaches us to carry over this teaching of the seventh day of Passover into Jewish life.  Even in times that are difficult and tense, we must be able to sing.  Even, as in our days, when Jewish life seems threatened all over the world and the future seems ominous, we have no right to fall into doubt and gloom and hesitation and despair…

“This is the real test: To sing of your Jewishness even when you sing alone, to be content in your Jewishness even when the world is alienated from you, to laugh at despair and banish it from your life.  To be a Jew means to sing” (The Royal Table, OU Press, p.71-73).

As we sit down to celebrate Chag ha’Pesach 5782, let us remember the lessons of Keriyas Yam Suf and the subsequent Shiras HaYam.  When the world is storming, when the (proverbial) waves are churning, when chaos reigns supreme… we must fortify ourselves and remind ourselves that just as Hashem saved our forefathers so long ago, so too, He will save us in our day and in our time.

And for this, indeed, we must sing.

בברכת חג כשר ושמח,


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