David Jay Derovan
Based on Rav Noach Berzovsky, the late Rebbe of Slonim, Netivot Shalom, Shemot, pp. 121-123
A New Twist to an Old Idea
If I have mentioned the idea or told the story before, then you will have to excuse me. It is well worth mentioning again, especially when discussing Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat when Parshat Beshalach is read.
Rav Yesha’yahu Hadary, of Yeshivat HaKotel, once told us that as a child living inJerusalem, he did not have many toys. So, whenever possible, he would stand in front of the big toy store window downtown, gazing at the toys. One of his favorites was the electric train. The storeowners had set up a circular track and the train spent every day lazily traveling around in a circle. Next to the track were a number of miniature lampposts and as the train passed them, each would light up in a different color.
The electric train on a circular track with the cute little lampposts is a model for the Jewish year, explained Rav Hadary. The circular track is the year. We, Jews, ride on the train, circling the track every year. On certain, specific dates, we pass a “lamppost” and a unique, ephemeral light goes on in heaven and we are showered with the spiritual forces carried by this light. These spiritual forces are unleashed every year on the same date. On Seder night, the very same lights and forces that God used to pry the Jewish people out of the clutches of the Egyptians are turned on and shower down upon us. This is why the Haggadah says that on this night everyone must see him or herself as having exited fromEgypt. Spiritually, we can reconstruct and relive the experience of the Exodus every year.
The late Slonim Rebbe quotes Reb Yisra’el of Rozhin, who says that just as the time awakens the “reading,” so, too, the “reading” awakens the time. Just as the date on the calendar awakens, so to speak, the spiritual forces that are the undercurrent that run through the event that we “read” about, in the Haggadah, for instance, so, too, the reading of the story – at any time – can awaken the time, triggering the release of the spiritual forces connected with those events.
If you think about it, this is an astounding idea. Based on this idea, the Slonim Rebbe explains a story about Reb Naftali of Ropshitz. They say that one year when Parshat Bo was read, the Roshitzer was so inspired that he began to recite Hallel. The “reading” had inspired the “time.” Even though this was months before Pesach, for Reb Naftali of Ropshitz, the spiritual moment associated with the Exodus fromEgypt had arrived.
Parshat Beshalach contains the description of the splitting of the Reed Sea (in old English, reed was spelled “red,” hence the Red Sea) and the song sung by Moshe and the Jews to celebrate their salvation at the sea. By reading the “Song of the Sea,” we awaken the spiritual forces that God employed to save us on that fateful day so many thousands of years ago. The Zohar quotes the verse, “Then Moshe and the people of Israel sang this song to God; they said, saying…” (Shemot 15:1) and comments that “they said, saying” means for all future generations. The illuminating light that was seen by the lowliest handmaiden, beyond the experience of the prophet Yechezkel, is available to us once again whenever we are in Shul on Shabbat Shira to hear the “Song of the Sea.”
The whole point of “song” in this context is the overwhelming realization that literally everything that God does is for the good. As they climbed up onto the far shore of theReedSea, looked back and saw the entire Egyptian army drowning, the Jews understood that every moment of their horrendous slavery as well as every minute of the previous year of plagues was for the best.
This new understanding was so total that all the Jews, together as one group, experience a phenomenal spiritual rush the resulted in their bursting forth with song. It was a transcendent moment of unity between God and his people. It is a moment that you and I can relive every year on Shabbat Shira.
The Shabbat in Shabbat Shira
Shabbat is also a time for song. The song of Shabbat it Tehilim 92, “A Psalm, a song for the Shabbat day – Mizmor Shir Le’Yom HaShabbat.”
Shabbat is also a day of transcendental awareness. It is a day devoted exclusively to God. It is a day for climbing out of our world and entering God’s world. Those activities that are unaffected by Halacha during the week, say, chopping vegetables, become a halachic concern on Shabbat. The Halacha guides every little thing we do on Shabbat, because in God’s world, everything must be done His way.
Tehilim 92, Mizmor Shir, does not mention Shabbat. Rather, it speaks clearly of how everything is the result of divine intervention. What might seem as the triumph of the wicked is in reality the beginning of their downfall. Everything that God does is for the good.
Shabbat officially begins, for the men folk at least, when Tehilim 92 is recited on Friday evening. At the very moment when we remind ourselves of the goodness of God’s handiwork, the extra dab of spirituality, the Neshamah Yetayrah, descends upon us, and Shabbat begins.
In a sense, every Shabbat is Shabbat Shira. Every Shabbat has its song, its spiritual moment. The Shabbat, when Parshat Beshalach is read, is also Shabbat Shira. Thus, Shabbat Shira is the Shabbat of Shir HaShirim, a double helping of song. Thus, Shabbat Shira is also the most holy, Kodesh Kodashim!
© 2011 DavidJay Derovan
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