And Israel saw the Great Might that Hashem did with Egypt,
and the people feared Hashem, and they had faith in Hashem
and in Hashem’s servant Moshe.
After witnessing the destruction of the Egyptian army at Krias Yam Suf, Klal Yisroel was empowered, albeit temporarily, to break free from the debilitating slave mentality that stood in the way of their spiritual birthright. Now that they no longer feared their former masters, they were then free to “fear Hashem and have emunah in Hashem and in Hashem’s servant Moshe,” the promised redeemer of Israel.
Note: This is the second article in a 3-part series about the moments immediately preceding and following Shirat HaYam. I recommend you read the previous article first since the ideas build on themselves. You can find it here.
As we learned in the previous article, this was the experience of those individuals within Klal Yisroel who were on the lowest spiritual levels.
But, what about those who already had emunah before they even left the confines of Egypt?
As a group this refers to the women as Chazal teach, “In the merit of the righteous women of the generation our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt.”1
What was their experience? What new level of Yiras Hashem and emunah could they have possibly come to?
Do We Really Understand Shirat Miriam?
To answer this we need to look a little a further along in the Torah. After Moshe Rebbeinu and the men had finished singing, Miriam HaNavia led the women in their own song of praise:
וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן, אֶת–הַתֹּף–בְּיָדָהּ
וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל הַנָּשִׁים אַחֲרֶיהָ בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלֹת
וַתַּעַן לָהֶם מִרְיָם שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה כִּי גָאֹה גָּאָה
סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם
And Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Aharon, took the drum in her hand,
and all the women went out after her, with drums and dances.
And Miriam answered them: Sing to Hashem who was victorious in battle;
horse and rider, He threw into the sea.2
The Chasam Sofer points out a few questions regarding Shirat Miriam.3 First off, why does Miriam’s song only reference the first possuk of Shirat HaYam which focuses on the destruction of Egypt without mentioning the awesome redemption the Jewish people had just witnessed?
Secondly, “וַתַּעַן לָהֶם ” literally means, “she answered them” in the masculine form. Who was Miriam answering, what was the question, and in what way does the lone possuk recorded in the Torah constitute a response?
According to the Chasam Sofer, citing the Midrash Tanchuma4, after the splitting of the sea, the angels wanted to sing praises to Hashem. But, they were not allowed to start singing since the miraculous events which occurred were for the sake of Jewish people. So, the angels had to wait until Moshe and the men had finished their song.
When the time came for the women to sing, however, the angels objected to having to wait for their song as well. Miriam response was actually directed to the angels.
The Chasam Sofer goes on to explain that we generally define miracles as supernatural events, occurrences that lie outside of the natural order of the world.
When Hashem created the world, He built within nature an inherent subservience to the Torah and to those who keep it. In other words, the greater one’s knowledge of the Torah and the fulfillment of its mitzvos, the greater is nature’s obligation to bend the rules on this person’s behalf.
Thus, an event that we would call a miracle which happens for someone who has a lot of merit, such as a tzaddik, is really not a miracle at all. It is simply how the world was made to operate. On the other hand, when a person’s spiritual merit is small, but nature must nevertheless bend the rules for him, then the resulting miracle is very great.
Since the miracle of the splitting of the sea happened predominantly through the great merit of the women, nature was obligated to protect them. For them, it wasn’t such a miracle; rather, it was the natural outcome of their righteousness and emunah. The men, however, didn’t have as much merit as the women. Thus, the redemption and the splitting of the sea represented a tremendous miracle on their behalf.
The Chasam Sofer continues that if the events at the sea were within the realm of nature for the women, then there was no need for them to sing shira. The angels agreed that the men, should precede them in singing shira. But when it came to the women, since they had earned the redemption due to their merits, the angels felt that there was no reason to also have to wait for them sing.
To this claim Miriam answered:
Our shirah is not mainly for the redemption. Our shirah is for having seen the Egyptian horses and riders thrown into the sea… In order for us to survive, it was not necessary for us to witness our enemies’ destruction. To behold that sight was no longer within the realm of the ‘natural.’ It is for this miracle that our shira as well should precede that of the angels.
According to the Midrash, the angels agreed to this as well.
On the surface, however, Miriam’s response doesn’t make sense. Why was witnessing Egypt’s downfall, specifically the Egyptian horses and their riders, at the sea a miracle of such great proportions for the women?
I believe this connected to another Midrash. Chazal teach that Miriam’s response, וַתַּעַן לָהֶם, was also directed to the men of that generation. Since the redemption from Egypt occurred so Klal Yisroel could receive the Torah, the men wondered how the women merited to be redeemed given that they do not have the mitzvah of learning Torah.
To this, Miriam responded, “… horse and rider, He threw into the sea.”
What had the Egyptian horses done that they deserved to be thrown into the sea together with their riders? They were only fulfilling the will of their masters. Their assistance, however, allowed the Egyptians to pursue Israel, and it is for this act that they were not only punished, but punished first.
Women play a critical role assisting and encouraging their husbands and children in their Torah learning and avodas Hashem. But, what benefit do they get for this?
Miriam proclaimed to the men while simultaneously offering encouragement to the women:
If a horse, which does not have any intelligence, was punished for its assistance in performance of a transgression, then how much more so is there a reward for us women who knowingly help our husbands and children learn Torah and perform mitzvos!
These ideas are supported by Chazal:
If the verse [mentioned above] punished one who joined transgressors like the transgressors [themselves], how much more will it reward the one who joins those who perform a mitzvah the same as those who perform the mitzvah!5
Greater is the promise [for future reward] made by the Holy One, Blessed be He, to women than to men… Rav said to Rabbi Chiyya: By what virtue do women merit [to receive this reward? Rabbi Chiyya answered: They merit this reward] for bringing their children to read [the Torah] in the synagogue, and for sending their husbands to study [mishna] in the study hall, and for waiting for their husbands until they return from the study hall.6
Although this insight was a reason for the Jewish women to celebrate and offer thanks to Hashem, it is nevertheless a fundamental element of creation. It can not be the miracle over which Miriam HaNevia and the women sung their song.
So, if that’s true then what was the miracle?
Perhaps the real miracle was the way in which this message was delivered– through the Egyptians themselves! Their very enemies, those who enslaved the Jewish People and who were the physical cause of so much pain, suffering, and bitterness had in the end became an awesome revelation of God’s hashgacha pratis, rachamim, and tzidkas.
As we saw earlier, the fact that the Egyptians could bring the Jews to such a level of teshuva that the Shechina, the Divine Presence, rested upon them, superseded the laws of nature. It wasn’t just a miracle; it was a miracle of massive proportions.
But, in order for the Egyptians to be conduits for such Divine Glory and spiritual goodness instead of being consumed by the sea, Divine Justice required them to carry out some good act. So, Hashem created a situation that allowed for such an act to happen. The real goal, however, was the spiritual ascent of the Jewish people.
Miriam and the women of that generation were more spiritually tuned in to and aware of Hashem’s Presence. They “heard” Hashem calling to His people through every experience and event He put them through. The women’s experience of galus had also been far more intense and bitter than that of the men, yet their emunah had been stronger and more enduring. Their yearning for redemption was a palpable reality, as was their joy over its realization and their striving towards its greater fulfillment.
They understood that the spectacle of the dying Egyptians on the shore of the sea was a miraculous Divine message that there is nothing in creation devoid of Hashem’s Glory. Every single person, place, and thing, as well as every single experience and human quality and behavior, whether good or bad, can become conduits through which Hashem’s light and kaddusha are brought into the world. As our sages teach, “there is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place.”7
Even the most painful, darkest situations contain a Divine spark of goodness and geula. Those who can connect to it, will be rewarded both in this world and in the next one.
That the women sensed this higher, though subtle message may be hinted to in the one possuk the Torah brings for Shirat Miriam:
שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה כִּי גָאֹה גָּאָה סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם
Sing to Hashem for He was victorious [over His] pride;
horse and rider, He exalted in the sea.
Sing to Hashem:
In the present, right now while we are still in golus
…for He was victorious over [His] pride:
Hashem allowed the Egyptians to be an אוֹת לְטוֹבָה, a “sign for good”8 for the sake of Klal Yisroel even though they should have been consumed at the sea for their wickedness
Horse and rider were exalted in the sea:
The word רָמָ֥ה also means to be in high, exalted or uplifted place, i.e. they were uplifted in order to serve as a conduit for Israel’s own aliyah, spiritual ascent.
In the final article of this series, we’ll complete this topic by looking at connection between Shirat Miriam and the bitter waters of Marah.
1. Sotah 11b
2. Shemos 15:20-21
3. These ideas were adapted from the Sefer “Trust Me,” by Rabbi Eliezar Parkoff
4. Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach, 13
5. Makkos 1:7
6. Brochos 17a
7. Avos 4:3
8. Tehillim 8:17