Archive for January 22nd, 2013

A song of hope

An elaboration of remarks made this week at the l’chaim for my son Yaakov and his kallah, Amanda:

It’s especially fitting to celebrate an engagement this week, when we will observe Shabbos Shira.  It’s difficult for us to imagine what it was like for the Jews of Egypt when, after watching the systematic and miraculous obliteration of the empire that had oppressed them for generations, after witnessing the death of four-fifths of their brethren who refused to trust in the hand of heaven, after setting forth into the forbidding desert with great wealth and fanfare, after finding themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s advancing chariots and the unyielding sea – after all that, to launch themselves forward between towering walls of water may have been the only option available to them but was by no means a simple act of self-preservation.

Panic, desperation, terror, relief, and disbelief – all these emotions caromed back and forth through their collective consciousness as they raced forward into uncertainty.  And, as they came out soundly on the other side, the cacophony of thoughts and feelings coalesced into a divinely inspired harmony we call the Shir Shel Yam – the Song of the Sea.

For all that, the commentaries all question the syntax of the opening phrase, Oz yoshir Moshe u’vnei Yisroel – contextually translated as, “Then, Moshe and the Children of Israel sang,” but curiously rendered in the future tense rather than the past.  Explains the Sfas Emes:  although the people were inspired to sing as they passed through the sea, their preoccupation with the practical business of fleeing for their lives demanded that their lyrical expression of elation would have to wait until their salvation was completed.

And so we learn that Hashem is closest to us not during those times when we have already connected with Him, but rather when we are seeking Him with the sense that revelation is nearly within reach.  Naturally, we express our deepest gratitude after we have been saved.  But our most intimate connection with the Almighty comes during those moments when salvation is imminent but not yet complete.  Only then can we experience the spiritual intensity of absolute dependence upon divine intervention even as we see our redemption unfolding before our eyes.

Indeed, the Zohar tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu felt humbled when he beheld prophetically the generation before the coming of Moshiach.  For Moshe, who lived in an era of open miracles and divine revelation, it seemed a simple matter to trust in Hashem and His providence.  But to live in a generation of such spiritual darkness that even the faintest glimmer of divine light seemed to have vanished, and to retain nevertheless even the smallest shred of faithfulness to Hashem and His Torah – that was something the Moshe himself could not fathom; that was the source of his profound humility.

We find ourselves in such a generation, so much so that it’s easy for us to reckon ourselves like King Louis XV of France who said, “Things may last my time, but after me – le deluge.”

It’s terrifying to contemplate the world in which our grandchildren will grow up and the storms our children will have to navigate.  But on the occasion of this l’chaim, I’m filled with hope.

After two decades of trying, by constant teaching and imperfect modeling, to instill in my children the primacy of middos tovos, after laboring to impress upon them by any means that qualities such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, modesty, and respect are the foundations of Torah life and Torah society, I thank the Ribono Shel Olam that my son has chosen a young woman whose impeccably fine character testifies to the quality of her parents and her upbringing.  I look with nachas at my own son, whose maturation into a ben Torah and a ba’al middos testifies to the inscrutable power of tefillah.

And looking at them, I feel as the Jews must have felt when they were passing through the Yam Suf  – I want to sing shira.  For as frightened as I am for them and all the challenges they will have to face, they give me hope for the future and inspire me with confidence that very soon we will all merit the final redemption and the coming of  Moshiach.

Originally posted at Beyondbt.com.

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