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HOW CAN WE SING WHEN WE ARE IN MOURNING?

Roy Neuberger - Jan. 26, 2018


Rabbi Raziel Shevach was murdered several weeks ago near his home in the Shomron (north of Yerushalayim). I never met him, but I understand he was a beloved person who extended himself greatly for his fellow Jews. That makes it hurt even more. It hurts when the haters are strong and those who bless the world are suffering. This is extremely painful.

 

Where is the consolation, my friends? This week we read the Torah Portion Beshalach, which describes how our ancestors crossed the Red Sea and sang Shira, praise to Hashem. I want to ask a question: how can we sing when we are in mourning?

 

I am going to say over an amazing, true story which I wrote about three years ago at this time in this column. Soon after the Holocaust, a bedraggled group of survivors arrived in Israel by ship at the port in Haifa. Barely alive, having lost everything, they felt helpless and hopeless. They had heard that the Belzer Rebbe (who himself had lost his entire family in the war) was in Tel Aviv, and decided to go to him for words of strength.


This is what the Belzer Rebbe told them: “Do you know where in the Torah we find a reference to “techias hamaisim,” the resurrection of the dead? Our rabbis found a hint in the Song that the Children of Israel sang at the Red Sea after their escape from Egypt and the drowning of their pursuers. The Torah uses the phrase ‘oz yoshir Moshe … and then Moshe will sing,” (instead of “Moshe sang,” which would have been expected). This implies a future redemption after our final escape from our enemies at the end of history. In other words, Moshe ‘will’ sing a song in the future in addition to the song he sang at the Red Sea. But,” the Rebbe asked, “why did the Torah insert the hint at this particular place? It could have been anywhere. 

 

“Try to understand what was happening to the Children of Israel at that time. They had just emerged from Egypt. Our rabbis tell us that, during the Plague of Darkness, four-fifths of the Children of Israel died, apparently because they were reluctant to follow Moses. Imagine: every person in Israel was mourning! All of them had lost close family members!

           

“How is it possible that a nation in mourning should be able to sing Shira, a song of praise to Hashem? How can one person, let alone an en7tire nation, be transformed in one moment from mourning to the highest level of simcha? (This type of song is considered the highest state of simcha.) The answer is that, at that exact moment, the concept of techias hamaisim, resurrection of the dead, was revealed to them! Those who had left would come back!” (Heard from Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon Shlita”h)

 

In this week’s Torah Portion, Moses says to the Children of Israel: “Do not fear! Stand and see the salvation of Hashem that He will do for you today. For, as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again. Hashem shall make war for you and you shall remain silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14) I know that this is the ideal; we are not supposed to be afraid. But this is easier said than done. In order to achieve this ideal, we need a lifetime of trying to acquire self-control, based on immersion in Torah. This is what brings actual healing to our lives.


After Moses said these words, it appears that he and the entire nation were praying fervently that Hashem should save them. But Hashem criticized Moshe by saying, “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey forth.” The Or Hachaim asks: wasn’t prayer exactly the proper response at this time? Why did Hashem criticize Moses?

 

The Or Hachaim answers: at this time, the people of Israel were “on trial for their lives.” (Zohar Volume II, 170b) What was their sin? They had demonstrated “a lack of faith in their hearts when they said, ‘It is better that we should serve Egypt than that we should die in the Wilderness.’ (Exodus 14:12) To counteract this [lack of faith], Hashem commanded them to perform an absolutely pure act of faith,” namely, to enter the Sea.


Let us try to apply this scenario to our contemporary world.


Today, the Children of Israel are in a similar situation. We are surrounded by enemies who want to push us into the sea. We are extremely vulnerable, but one thing is different. We are lacking something our ancestors had. What are we lacking?


Moshe Rabbeinu! Where is our Moses?


My friends, we need to pray from the depths of our hearts for Moshiach ben Dovid! We need a leader who is going to speak in the Name of Hashem before the entire world. This is a desperate moment. The world is arrayed on one side and the sea is on the other. We are surrounded by enemies whose deepest desire is – G-d forbid! – to destroy us. There is no way out except to put our total faith in a redemption that comes from Hashem.


For sure this is going to happen, because Hashem has promised that He will redeem us. The question is: when? The longer we wait, the closer our enemies will come to pushing us into the sea. At each moment the crisis intensifies. It is time for us to demonstrate our complete trust in G-d by jumping into the sea!


And what is this “sea?” The Ocean of Torah! If we jump in, it will open for us! As our Rabbis say, “there is no [meaning for the word] ‘water’ other than ‘Torah.’” (Bava Kamma 82a)


Then we will live and our enemies will be no more. “Oz yashir Moshe … I shall sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea…. This is my G-d, and I will build Him a Sanctuary; the G-d of my father and I will exalt Him.”


May we see it soon in our days!


 

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