How can we sing songs of praise when the world is burning?
I heard an amazing story. A few years after the Holocaust, a bedraggled group of survivors from Europe arrived in Israel by ship. Having lost everything, they felt helpless and hopeless. They heard that the Belzer Rebbe (who himself had lost almost his entire family in the war) was in Tel Aviv, and decided to go to him for support, encouragement, and inspiration.
This is what he told them: “Do you know where in the Torah we find a reference to t’chias hamaisim - 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 words ‘az yoshir Moshe’ (“then Moses sang” - but literally “then Moses will sing”) imply a future redemption after our final escape from our enemies at the end of history, in other words, Moses ‘will’ sing a song in the future in addition to the song he sang at the Red Sea.
“But 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. During the Plague of Darkness, our rabbis tell us that four-fifths of the Jewish People died, apparently because they were reluctant to follow Moses. Imagine: every person among the Jewish People was in mourning! All of them had lost close family members!
“How is it possible that a nation in mourning should be able to sing praise to G-d? How can one person, let alone an entire nation, be transformed in one moment from mourning to the highest level of joy? The answer is that, at that moment, the concept of t’chias hamaisim was revealed to them! Those who had left them would come back!”
Once the Children of Israel learned that death is not final, that G-d will one day bring back those who lie in the grave, we ceased to fear death. Once we ceased to fear death, it was as if we had returned to the Garden of Eden and could once again sing with complete joy, and that is when “Moses and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to G-d…”
And now, my friends, we can also understand more about the significance of T’U b’Shevat - the New Year of the Trees, which comes next week. We learn something very important about how redemption will come about. We know that the most holy things in life are hidden. The Talmud tells us that blessing comes only from that which is hidden from sight, as it says, “Blessing is not found except in something hidden from the eye.” (Taanis 8b)
The Torah, for example, only hints at the identity and location of Jerusalem until it is actually revealed. The identity of Messiah is hidden, as well as the time of his arrival. Of course, the supreme example of that which is hidden is G-d Himself.
T’U b’Shevat teaches us that events surrounding the redemption are hidden. We cannot see when the sap begins to flow within the tree. We cannot see the moment when the rains are absorbed into the roots and new life begins to flow, the moment the grip of winter loosens. The beginnings of redemption are hidden until the glorious moment bursts upon us. In the early spring, the flowing sap within the tree is hidden, but the tree is returning to life. Only when flowers burst into magnificent bloom do we see the actualization of what was hidden.
In recent weeks we have witnessed terrible events. One feels encompassed by powerful events over which one has no control. As King David says, “All the nations surround me … they encircle me…” (Psalms 118)
This has happened before, specifically in this week’s Torah portion. As it says, “Egypt pursued them and overtook them, encamped by the sea, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and his horsemen and army…. The Children of Israel raised their eyes …. They were very frightened!” (Exodus 14:9ff) We were surrounded, with the sea on one side and our enemies on the other. Our situation seemed hopeless!
But “hopeless” is not in the Torah vocabulary.
“Moses called out to the people: ‘Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of G-d that He will perform for you today!’” Similarly, King David told us centuries later, “In the Name of G-d, I cut them down!” (Psalms 118)
My friends, we must know: “ma’ase avos siman l’banim… what our fathers experienced is a sign for us.” Just when everything seems to be crashing in around us, at that very moment we should expect the salvation of G-d. “Yeshuas Hashem k’heref ayin - G-d’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye”.
We are witnessing today a prelude to the greatest salvation in all history!
“Ben Zoma said to the Sages: ‘Will we mention the Exodus from Egypt in the Messianic Era? … Has it not already been said, ‘Behold days are coming … when people will no longer swear, ‘As G-d lives, Who brought the children of Israel up from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘As G-d lives, Who brought back the offspring of the House of Israel … from all the lands wherein He had dispersed them?’
“The Sages replied: the mention of the Exodus from Egypt will not be uprooted from its place, but rather the mention of the final redemption will be primary and the Exodus from Egypt will be secondary to it.” (Berachos 12b)
Today’s colossal events appear frightening, just as our ancestors were frightened by colossal events at the Red Sea. We must keep in mind Moses’ magnificent words: “Do not fear. Stand fast and see the salvation of G-d that He will perform for you today!” (Exodus 13:14)
Events even greater than those in Egypt await those who hope for the Salvation of G-d!