Last Days of Pesach

The last two days of Pesach are Yom Tov again. This is the time when we commemorate the splitting of the sea for the Jews and their realization that we never would be oppressed by the Egyptians again.

Let us recount what happened. After the Jews got a bit away from Egypt, G-d told Moshe to tell the Jews to retract and go back toward Egypt. The amazing thing is that the Jews did so – they didn’t question and didn’t let fear take hold.  At this point, they had total faith and did it although it made no logical sense to them.

Paroh counts off three days and then decides he wants the Jews back.  He hitched his chariot – he personally set up his chariot.  Nothing stood in his way and he didn’t wait for his servants.  “V’ess ahmoh Lukach Eemoh” [and his nation he took with him].  Rashi:  He took them by persuasion, he talked them into joining him.  What got them motivated?  Money.  Wealth makes folks do things that are so risky and they know are so risky.  They just suffered ten plagues, begged the king to get rid of the Jews, chased the Jews out…but three days later Paroh explains that they ought to be chasing after the wealth, and, boom, he had them.  We must always ask ourselves if we are rushing into disaster to chase after money.

He assembled an army with him and got a fleet of horses.  Rashi asks where did they get the animals from – and the answer is that the steeds were supplied by the “G-d fearing” Egyptians who had saved their animals (if you remember, in a previous Parsha, the Egyptians were warned of the hail plague and those who “feared G-d” at that point, put their animals into barns to save them while all the other animals out in the fields got killed).  Their “fear of G-d” lasted only as long as the plagues, and then it was, ‘okay, let’s use what we saved to go against the will of G-d’.  We must remember never to be like those fools.  If we learn a lesson about G-d’s providence, we must remember that lesson way beyond the time it happened and keep the perspective throughout our lives.
Ever hear the term, between a rock and a hard place? It was penned for what happened now.  The Jews are on the shore of a sea and there are two rocks on each side of them so they can’t run anywhere…and then the Egyptians approach from the back. (In Song of Songs, Shlomo HaMelech commemorates this point of history as describing it as “yonasee b’chagvay ha’selah- my dove is stuck in the cleft of the rock”)

cried out to HashemAnd the Jews “cried out to Hashem”.  So far so good.  They davened, which was great.  But then, instead of relying on the prayer, they began complaining.  “Are there not enough graves in Egypt that you had to take us to die here in the desert?”  The bitterness sets in, now, which is NOT okay.
Moshe responds to them:  “Don’t be afraid, stand still and see the salvation of Hashem”

Moshe is davening to Hashem and Hashem says, now is not a time to prolong in prayer.  It is a time to act: the Jews should march forward into the sea, which will split.  What is going on – why shouldn’t Moshe daven?  To pray or not to pray, that is the question, and how are we to know when to employ prayer and when to act?  We are taught that until your prayer is answered, keep davening.  So why is Moshe told to stop davening now?  The Ohr Hachayim explains the way of Heaven – there is Middas Rachamim and Midas HaDin – an Attribute of Mercy and an Attribute of Justice.  At this point, the sea was told to split and save the Jews.  But the angels protested – the reasoning was, according to justice, the Jews sinned, as did the Egyptians.  Why save one over the other?  Up until now, they had the merit of the Korban Pesach, but now they negated it by complaining against G-d, so in strict justice, they had no merit to invoke mercy.  Therefore, G-d told Moshe, prayer won’t help.  The Jews need an extra merit – march forward into the still wet sea.  The Jews inch forward, giving them the beginning of the merit of their salvation.

“Forward march,” is the challenge to the Jews . One man took the initiative, striding right into the sea, which split into grandiose safe passages for the Jews.   If we know what we are supposed to do is right, we have to march right into the open space. When we know G-d is there for us, we must have the courage to stride forward to find solutions to our dilemmas right there, within walking distance, waiting for our arrival.

May we all merit to have the courage to stride forward, no matter how hopeless it seems, so that troubles can split and safe passage and solutions become apparent.

Moshe is told to stretch out his hand over the sea.  Overnight, the Jews are camped there and Moshe was stretching out his hand, and a strong east wind came and pushed back the water.  The solitary man who had the ultimate courage is Nachson ben Aminuduv. He wades in until the point where his nostrils are in water.  He doesn’t back down, so sure is he in salvation.  Do we have it in us to believe even as we wade in deeper and deeper? It seems he will drown, but he still believes and still moves forward…and then…SALVATION!

The historical time of the splitting of the sea takes place on the second days of the Chag.

There are those who want to debunk historical accounts.  They cannot do away with the story of the splitting of the sea as there are archeological records that refer to it, so they try to do away with G-d through science, saying that the moon pulled the tide way off that night.  G-d does miracles with nature.  In fact, the verse talks about a mighty strong wind being involved.  But when you see  how nature “lined up its time of splitting” with the exact moment that the Jews were going to be attacked shows how idiotic this claim of debunking G-d is.  Nature is a tool G-d uses and manipulates to bring punishment, reward and miraculous salvations.

second days of the Chag PisachThe waters split into varied tunnels, each tribe had their own pathway.  The water was like blown crystal and there were fresh water fountains inside.  By marching forward, the Jews created the Zechus [merit] they needed to save them.  Daven, yes.  But at times, when davening is not being answered, it might be because we need an extra merit to get the answer to the Tefillos.  At that time, we should “march forward” and find ourselves a merit.

The Egyptians follow the Jews into the sea – when the last Jew comes out of the sea, the last Egyptian stepped in and the water crashes down again on the Egyptians.   The Mitzriyim were so focused on their evil, they did not stop to think, “hey, a sea just split, shouldn’t we think what it means before plunging in….”  Make sure we are never so focused on our Yetzer Hara that we ignore signs that we are doing wrong.

The end came for the Egyptians. When reason is all lost in the pursuit of our evil desires, there is only death and disaster. The Egyptians march straight into the sea, and meet their doom. While the waters crashed upon the Egyptians, the Jews still were not secure. They wondered and worried, did any of their enemies survive. Therefore, G-d has the sea spit up the dead upon the shore – the waves spat out the Egyptians’ bodies to reassure the Jews that their enemies were dead.

Then Moshe sang. We have to sing songs of thanks to G-d.

 Az Yasheer

What follows in the next verses is the prayer of Az Yasheer.  There is an ancient holy custom to “re-enact” the splitting of the sea on the night of second days of Pesach.
Now, let us take some tidbits of insight from the Az Yashir, the song bursting out in joy at the salvation of the split sea. First of all, it opens with something weird it says, “Az” then “Yasheer” which means he will then sing – future tense.  Really it should say, Az Shar  – then he sang, in the past tense.  It is a hint of the future, that just as we sang the song at this salvation, our nation will get to sing again such a song when Moshiach comes.

{aside:  a note about Shirah – there are only ten times mankind will ever sing.  Nine times those songs have been sung, one more time will be when Moshiach comes.  Song of Shira is only when folks realize their connection to G-d and know their task in His world.}

“Soos v’rohchvoh rahmah ba’yam” horse and rider He threw in the sea”  RASHI:  even as they were bobbing up and down and drowning, horse and rider stayed together.  That is the way they lived their lives – identity through their steeds, so G-d killed them that way.  Those who identify themselves with their Mercedes van or Lamborghini so that they don’t know where they as a person start and end, will end up destroyed together with their “extended” personality.

It then describes how the Egyptians drowned, and there were different descriptions.  We learn that even in their punishments, it wasn’t one measure for all.  Each person gets exactly what is due them. Therefore, those who harmed the Jews but were not torturers, they sank like “lead” right straight down, quick death.  Then there were those sank a bit slower, like stones.  Those who delighted in torturing us, they sank like “straw” bobbing about, their death prolonged until they got full measure torture for what they had dealt out.

Az Yashir

Then Miriam took an instrument in her hand.  She had told the women to bring along instruments before they left Egypt because she knew they would have time to sing because G-d would do miracles.  That is the power of belief in G-d, trusting He will do salvations for you.  Another interesting thing to note is that in the verses, it says that Miriam began dancing and singing – and the other women joined in.  We learn from this that doing the right, spiritual thing, you don’t have to convince others to do it too – just from your example, others will be moved to do the right thing.

Download Text and translation of Az Yashir.

May we all merit this year to have the courage to stride into the difficult challenges ahead of us, allowing for Divine miracles that “split seas” for us and give us the opportunity to sing new songs of praise to G-d.