Thursday, January 17, 2019



One of the goals of the Nazis was to break the Jewish spirit and to destroy all semblances of dignity.
Dignity in response to attempted acts of physical and spiritual degradation was dramatically demonstrated in Lublin towards the end of 1939. The German commander, Glovoznik, had forcibly assembled the Jews in an empty field on the outskirts of the city and ordered them in jest to sing a Hassidic melody. Hesitantly, someone began the traditional melody “Lomir zich iberbeten, Avinu Shebashomayim - Let us become reconciled, Our Father in Heaven”.
The song, however, did not arouse much enthusiasm among the frightened masses. Immediately, Glovoznik ordered his hooligans to attack the Jews since they refused to comply with his instructions.
As the angry outburst began, an anonymous voice broke through the turmoil with a powerful and piercing cry, a distortion of the original words, “Mir velen sei iberleben, Avinu Shebashomayim - We will outlive them, O Father in Heaven!”
Instantly, the song took hold among the masses, until the people literally broke into a feverish dance. The assembled were swept up by the entrancing melody full of dveikus, which had now been infused with new content of faith and trust.
The intended derision was turned into a disaster for the bewildered Nazis, forcing Glovoznik to order a halt to the paradoxical spectacle.[2]

The Shabbos when parshas Beshalach is read, is called Shabbos Shirah. It has the distinction of being the only Shabbos of the year that merits a special title based on the weekly Torah reading.[3]
Although parshas Beshalach contains the Shiras Hayam, the magnificent song the nation sang on the banks of the Yam Suf after it miraculously split, it would seem that there is a deeper connection to the concept of shira/song in the parsha. More than half the events detailed in the parsha transpire after the shira concluded – including the sweetening of the bitter waters, the beginning of the manna falling daily, and the epic battle against Amalek.  
The Chiddushei Harim explains that the parsha contains the nation’s first experience observing Shabbos. They were instructed to gather a double portion of manna on Friday and to perform all preparations of the manna for Shabbos beforehand.
Shabbos is inherently a day of song, as the psalm of the day states: “A psalm; a song for the day of Shabbos: It is good to thank G-d and to sing to His Supreme Name.[4]
The Chiddushei Harim suggests that that is also an important component in why the Shabbos when this parsha is read has the distinction of being called “Shabbos Shirah”.

The parsha that contains the shirah and details about the ‘day of shirah’, must contain the key/prerequisite for shirah. How does one achieve a feeling of euphoric joy that prompts a deep shirah to burst forth from his lips?
Immediately after the nation emerged from the sea amidst incredible unprecedented miracles, they stood facing a vast ominous desert without provisions for basic survival. They were keenly aware of the fact that they had just been saved from an enemy that wanted to avenge their honor and retrieve their money and slaves. They had literally been saved from the throes of death and humiliation. At that point, millions of people stood unprotected in a forbidden, inhospitable land with their children, the elderly, and everything they owned. It must have been utterly frightening. Despite the miracles they had just experienced, how could they have sung in joyous unity at that moment?   
The answer to those questions also answers how anyone can one sing shirah in a world of uncertainty and vulnerability? How can one ever reach a state of blissful ebullience to sing shirah with conviction?
The final words written in the Torah before it begins the shirah are: “And they had faith in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant.”[5] The key to their ability to sing despite their predicament was their unwavering and complete faith.

At the end of each parsha, many chumashim have printed how many verses were in the parsha. Then, it will add a word which has some connection to the main theme of the parsha which has the numerical value of the amount of pesukim in the parsha as a mnemonic device to remember how many pesukim there are.
Parshas Beshalach contains 116 pesukim. The mnemonic word is “yad emunah - hand of faith”. The theme that traverses the parsha is that of faith.
The conclusion of the parsha records the story of the battle against Amalek. Rashi[6] explains that Amalek attacks whenever there is a weakening of faith. When the nation asked, “Is Hashem in our midst, or not?”[7] that was the precipitating factor which allowed Amalek to instigate a malicious, unprovoked attack. 

The Torah’s detailing of the falling of the manna also contains a potent lesson about faith.
Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the Torah relates that the nation complained about the lack of food on the fifteenth of the second month. The date is significant – it was exactly one month after the exodus occurred. That demonstrated that this was the next significant step the nation had to undertake following the exodus. They had been saved from slavery, but now came the great challenge of maintaining and preserving their redemption.
Rav Hirsch notes that the fear and angst of making a living can be overwhelming. If one feels that the burden of supporting his family and being the breadwinner falls on his shoulders alone, it is too much to bear. In such a state of inevitable anxiety, he surely will be unable to properly observe the Torah and grow in his commitments to serving G-d with peace of mind.[8] In his words, “Real or supposed hunger, and danger of hunger, makes all principles shaky, silences all better resolutions.”
The only solution is to build one’s faith. When one knows with certitude that as long as he has done his part and has made a proper effort to provide for his family, G-d is in full control and will care for his needs, then he can feel a sense of inner peace.
This is the vital message reinforced with our observance of Shabbos. When we desist from pursuing our personal interests on Shabbos and remind ourselves that G-d created the world, we ingrain within ourselves that He cares for every facet of our lives and cares for our needs.
It was no accident that G-d led the nation into the desert and allowed them to feel the anxiety of not knowing how they were going to provide for their families. In that moment of despair, G-d brought them the manna to teach them that such is the way of livelihood – It is G-d Who provides.[9]
Rav Hirsch adds, “On Pesach they built their homes for G-d; on Shabbos they ‘kept’ their homes for him.”  Shabbos is a day of song because it is a day when we strengthen our faith. The greater one’s faith, the more he will be able to live a life of song for the blessings and goodness he has been blessed with, instead of focusing on the things he lacks.

The gemara[10] notes that planting is alluded to in a verse[11] which speaks of faith. The gemara explains that the farmer “believes in the Living One of the Worlds and plants.” Tosafos[12] explains that for one to plant he must, “believe in the Living One of the worlds and plant”.
The process of planting entails that one takes a seed and place it in the ground and allow it to rot. How can one allow that to happen? Because he is confident of the process of nature, created by the Living One of the worlds. The rotted seed will then take root and begin to produce a mighty tree, which will eventually bear fruit that contains seeds that can produce endless amounts of trees.
Tu B‘Shvat is a celebration of the wonders of the ‘miraculous natural process’ of planting and growth. “Sing to Hashem a new song; sing to Hashem the entire land.”[13] The natural world is a manifestation of the wonders of G-d though we often forget that truth.
The more one is cognizant of the hand of G-d, the greater is his faith. The greater his faith the more he will live a life of endless song, even for the mundane, which will longer be mundane in his eyes.
It is an expression of heartfelt joy for all the blessings of life.

“He believes in the Living One of the Worlds”
“I will sing to Hashem for He greater than the great”

 Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Beshalach 5778
[2] Moshe Prager, “The Hassidic Movement During the Holocaust”
[3] The Shabbos when Bereishis is read often called Shabbos Bereishis, but that seems to be more connected with the fact that it is the beginning of the yearly cycle of Torah reading, more than the actual parsha. There are also a few other Shabbosos which merit special names based on an added laining, or a unique haftorah read that Shabbos.
[4] Tehillim 92:1-2
[5] Shemos 14:31
[6] Quoting Medrash Tanchuma
[7] Shemos 17:7
[8] A friend once quipped that we should not refer to making a living as the “ol haparnasa – the yoke of livelihood” but as “pachad haparnasah – the terror of livelihood”.
[9] I was very inspired when a fellow in my shul related that every month, when he receives his paycheck, he holds it up and thanks G-d for providing him with the means to support his family.
[10] Shabbos 31a
[11] Yeshaya 33:6 – “And the faith of your times shall be a strength of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of G-d is his treasure.” The gemara (ibid) expounds that the verse is alluding to the six orders of Mishnayos, each word referring to a different order.
[12] Ibid, quoting Yerushalmi
[13] Tehillim 96:2


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