Parshas Beshalach: The Greatest Praise

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Beshalach, we read of the famous salvation at the Sea of Reeds.  Having just left Egypt, the former Israelite slaves are journeying through the desert, en route to freedom, when wicked Pharaoh has a change of heart. וַיֵּהָפֵךְ לְבַב פַּרְעֹה וַעֲבָדָיו, אֶלהָעָם, וַיֹּאמְרוּ מַהזֹּאת עָשִׂינוּ, כִּישִׁלַּחְנוּ אֶתיִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעָבְדֵנוּ, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned regrading the people and he said: What is this that we have done that we have sent away Israel from serving us? וַיֶּאְסֹר, אֶתרִכְבּוֹ; וְאֶתעַמּוֹ, לָקַח עִמּוֹ, and he harnessed his chariot and his people he took with himוַיִּרְדֹּף, אַחֲרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, and he chased after the Children of Israel (Shemos 14:5-6,8).

When the people panic upon seeing Pharaoh and his army, Moshe reassures them that the salvation of G-d is at hand.  And in fact, the Sea of Reeds splits for the Israelites, who emerge free and safe on the other shore, while the Egyptians, horses, chariots and riders drown in the churning waters that envelop them.  

Immediately after this great miracle, the Bnei Yisrael, led by Moshe, sing a song of thanks to Hashem.  This song, known as “Az Yashir,” is so fundamental that it is recited every single day in our Tefilas Shachris.  

What is the opening stanza of this glorious song of thanks?  אָז יָשִׁירמֹשֶׁה וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶתהַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, לַהוַיֹּאמְרוּלֵאמֹראָשִׁירָה לַהכִּיגָאֹה גָּאָהסוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּםThen Moshe and the Children of Israel sang this song to Hashem, and they said saying: I will sing out to Hashem for He is exalted above all exaltedness, a horse and its rider He hurled into the sea (15:1).

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski shlita writes, “While the Song of Triumph does tell about the Israelite’s miraculous salvation, the opening verse is: ‘I shall sing to G-d for He is exalted.’  Even more than their own salvation, the Israelites rejoiced in the kiddush Hashem (that occurred because of keriyas yam suf), that G-d’s Name was glorified.  Kiddush Hashem should be the prime motivator in the life of a Jew.

“It is of interest that in the kaddish, the traditional prayer recited for the deceased, there is no reference to death or to any type of memorial service.  Rather, the kaddish is, ‘May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified.’… When a life has been ended, the survivors should make a commitment that their lives should contribute to the exaltation of G-d’s Name.

“In the Shema we say, ‘You shall love your G-d with all your heart’ (Devarim 6:5).  Chazal interpret this to mean, ‘You shall make G-d beloved.’  If a Torah-observant person is courteous and scrupulously honest, people will say, ‘How wonderful the Torah is, that it teaches people to behave so beautifully,’ thereby bringing glory to G-d [and creating a kiddush Hashem].  If he behaves otherwise, people will say, ‘See, Torah observance does not produce fine character,’ and this creates a chillul Hashem, a profanation of G-d’s Name. 

“The first beracha recited to a couple after they have been joined in wedlock is, ‘Blessed is G-d, Who has created everything for His glory.’  The relevance of this blessing to the marriage ceremony is that if the couple exhibits middos that bring glory to G-d, these middos will make for a blissful marriage, free of altercations that may occur between husband and wife.  

“We are often in doubt whether or not to do something.  An excellent guideline to do what is right is to ask, ‘Will this act contribute in any way to the greater glory of G-d?’  If it does not, then even if it does not profane the Divine Name, serious consideration should be given whether or not to do it.

“Moshe taught the Israelites that even before they express their gratitude toward G-d for their (own) salvation, they should be most thankful that [the splitting of the Reed Sea] exalted G-d’s Name.

“There is great reward for someone who recites the Song of Triumph every morning with these kavanos (concentration and intentions).  Understood properly, it can set the tone for the entire day” (Twerski on Chumash, p.138).

The greatest praise to Hashem’s Name is when we act in ways that bring kavod, honor, and kiddush, sanctification, to His Great Name, living a life of Torah, mitzvos and middos tovos in all that we do! 

R’ Dovid Feinstein zt’l once related, “One afternoon in the early 1990s, I completed my afternoon shiur and found someone waiting to see me.  He was dressed like a common laborer.   I invited him into my office where I have a photograph of my father zt’l (R’ Moshe) hanging on the wall.  The man looked up and said, ‘I also have that picture.’  Then he reached into his bag and took out the book ‘Reb Moshe’ and said, ‘You see this book?  This book is what made me become religious.’

“…. (After that visit) he would return often (to the yeshiva) each time bringing a donation with him… On one visit, he related how the book about my father had inspired him to become a baal teshuva.  ‘I read about his personality, his middos, and I said to myself, ‘This is a human being.  If you’re not like this, you’re not a human being.  I’m not a human being.’  And so I became a baal teshuva.’  Around a year later he passed away.  He left the yeshiva a significant sum of money – and he died a baal teshuva.”

R’ Dovid concluded and said, “If this man would have viewed my father as a malach (an angel), he would not have related to him.  ‘If he’s a malach, so what do you want from me?’  Rather, he saw my father as a human being, and that is what made him want to emulate his life and his ways” (Reb Moshe, Artscroll, p.506).

When we live our lives striving to be mekadesh shem Shomayim in all that we say and do, it is that glory that we bring to G-d’s Name (keviyachol) that is the greatest praise there is.  Hence, there was no more apropos shevach (praise) with which to begin the Song of the Sea than relating the exaltedness of G-d’s Name that occurred with the great miracle and salvation.  

May our strivings each day lead us to live lives that are filled with Kiddush Hashem.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal

May this dvar Torah be a zechus refuah shalaimoh for Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, shlita, Avraham Yehoshua Heshel Ben Devorah Leah, b’soch she’ar cholei Yisrael.  

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