Picture this: The Jewish people have just gotten out of Egypt. On one side of them is the Sea of Reeds while on the other side is the Egyptians, dead-set on returning the Jews to their slavery. Caught between a rock and a hard place, it seems as if all hope is lost. But then Moshe Rabbeinu raises his staff and the sea splits before them, allowing them to cross on dry land. In this miraculous situation, the Jewish people are brought to sing and dance, lead by none other than Miriam.
Observing the journey of the Jewish people thus far from a birds-eye view is quite cinematic. Were our history a musical, this would certainly be the most climactic song. And within that song lies a deep look at what it means to be a Jew not only in the Ancient Near East, but in the here and now as well. This can be made apparent by a close reading of the beginning and end of the song respectively.
The first verse of the song (Shemot 15:1) reads that “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to Hashem. They said: I will sing to Hashem, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.” Rashi there comments, based on the Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishamel, that the horse and rider are significant because “both of them attached one to the other; and the waters lifted them up and then they descended into the depths and yet they did not become separated.” In other words, the horse and rider were linked to each other throughout the event.
This may seem like a passable detail, but when Miriam is later shown singing the song for the women (15:21) it is only this opening verse that is emphasized for a second time. Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, director of the rabbinical school at Yeshiva University, suggests that this line is emphasized because it encompasses the message of the entire song. The horses could be understood as the physical wealth in our lives: if utilized correctly, it can lead us to greater service of Hashem. But if we misuse it, then it will pull us down with it into the depths of physicality and darkness.
How can we avoid such a tremendous pitfall? The final verse of the song (Shemot 15:18) reads that “G-d will reign for all eternity.” Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch comments that this teaches that “Moses and Israel see themselves as the servants and instruments of God’s great future of salvation, for which he has now laid the foundations by revealing to the world His unique mighty reign of justice and loving-kindness…” a future in which, Rav Hirsch notes, G-d will rule over not only the Jewish people, but all of humanity.
This comment itself hearkens back to an earlier one made by Rav Hirsch (Shemot 14:31) where he notes that “the eternal significance of the moment of redemption, unique in its greatness” is in demonstrating “His justice; which is to be feared at all times; His loving-kindness, which is to be trustingly awaited at all times; and His almighty power, commanding freely over all things, in which he can practice loving-kindness and justice simultaneously.”
It is our job to recognize that serving Hashem is our ultimate goal and to utilize our unique tools (both physical and spiritual) towards that end. This Song emphasizes that message literally from beginning to end.
Rabbi Gotlib and the JET Team