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B’shalach 5767-2007

“I Have Been Waiting For Them”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, Parashat B’shalach, we read of the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people from the hands of Pharaoh and his army who were pursuing the Children of Israel.

After chasing them from Egypt, Pharaoh and his hosts drew close to the rather desperate Children of Israel who had no possible escape route except to march into the sea. The Israelites cry out to G-d and to Moses saying (Exodus 14:11): “Ha’mib’lee ayn k’varim b’Mitz’ra’yim, l’kach’tanu lah’moot ba’midbar?” Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness? Why did you not let us serve as slaves in Egypt, for it is better that we should serve Egypt than die in the wilderness? G-d instructs Moses to lift his staff, stretch out his arm over the sea and split the waters so that the Children of Israel can come into their midst. The waters split and the Children of Israel walk through on the dry seabed, the waters serving as a wall for them on their right and on their left.

The Children of Israel emerge from the sea onto the dry land while the hosts of Egypt are drowned. Scripture relates in Exodus 14:31, “Va’yir’oo ha’am et Hashem, va’ya’ah’mee’noo ba’Hashem uv’Moshe av’do,” When the Children of Israel saw the great hand of G-d and all that He had inflicted on Egypt, the people were in awe of G-d, had faith in Him and in Moses, His servant.

Moses then leads the People of Israel in song, praising G-d who is exalted above the arrogant, who has hurled the horse and its rider into the sea. Miriam the prophetess then takes the drum in her hand, and leads the women in both song and dance. She encourages the women to sing a similar chorus to G-d (Exodus 15:21): “Shiru l’Hashem kee ga’oh ga’ah, sus v’roch’vo rama va’yam,” Sing to G-d who is exalted above the arrogant having hurled the horse and rider into the sea.

Commenting on this extraordinary moment in Jewish history, the Midrash in Shemot Rabah 23:4, makes a rather strange observation. It states that G-d was particularly overjoyed to hear the songs of praise that Moses, Miriam and the People of Israel offered. G-d, in fact, had been waiting for these praises for many generations. G-d had, after all, helped many on previous occasions, yet none had sung words of praise to Him. Says the Midrash:

Adam was created, and did not sing words of praise. Abraham was saved from the fiery furnace and from the hands of the four kings, and did not say praise. Isaac was saved from the sword at the Akeidah, and did not say praise. Jacob was saved from the angel of Esau and from the hands of Esau himself and from the people of Shechem, and did not sing praise. But when the People of Israel arrived at the sea and it split for them, they immediately sang their song to G-d. And G-d responded, “I had been waiting for them.”

The Midrash is obviously capitalizing on the fact that there is no record in scriptures of Adam, Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, ever thanking G-d for His benevolence. The Torah records Jacob praying (Genesis 32:10) that he should be saved from the hands of Esau and that he is not worthy of all the good things that G-d had done for him, but there really is no equivalent song of praise that in any way compares to the praise of the People of Israel at the Red (Reed) Sea.

The uniqueness of the song that the People of Israel sang at the sea was that it represented a complete transformation in what had been, until then, prevailing “human nature.” How quick are human beings to condemn G-d when things go awry. How slow we are to praise Him when things are good. The prophet, in Malachi 2:17, expresses it bluntly: “Ho’gatem Hashem b’div’ray’chem,” You have wearied the L-rd with your words! Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?’ In that you say, “Everyone that does evil is good in the sight of the L-rd, and He delights in them; or where is the G-d of justice?” Any time the littlest thing goes wrong, the Jewish people are quick to ask: “Where is G-d?” Yet we are hesitant to ask “Where is G-d?” when we have so much for which to be grateful.

When my parents finally left the Bronx after the neighborhood changed, they moved to Northern Flatbush. After a few years that neighborhood changed as well, but my then elderly parents were reluctant to start packing again. It was only after a burglar broke in through the fire escape and stole a small television set, that they agreed to relocate to Borough Park. For my father, it was like moving back to his shtetel of Biale, Poland. He was ecstatic. One day when I came to visit, he appeared rather upset. When I asked him why, he exclaimed: “Oh, would I like to get my hands on that thief!” I asked him why he was so upset, after all it was only an old, small, inexpensive black-and-white televison. He answered: “I’d like to get my hands on that thief and give him a big ‘yasher koach‘–a big thank you, because had it not been for him, we would have never moved!!”

While finding something to complain about is rather easy, we Jews need to acknowledge that we certainly live in a “Golden Age” of prosperity and blessing. We finally have a Jewish state of our own. The Jews in America live in unprecedented security and with great abundance. Advances in technology have made life so much easier. Advances in medicine and sanitation have eliminated many illnesses that would regularly kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, across the globe. Over the last 100 years the average lifespan in North America has increased by almost 30 years (from 49 to 77+ years). How is it that we don’t seek out G-d and say to Him, “I’d like to give You a ‘yasher koach,'” because now, when someone dies in their early 80s we bemoan the “premature” loss by saying, “How young! It was too soon to go!”

Does G-d need our thanks? Certainly not! But would G-d appreciate our thanks? He certainly would! This is what the Midrash means when it says that upon hearing the songs that Moses and the people of Israel sang, G-d said, “I have been waiting for them.” Let’s not keep G-d waiting. It’s time to sing.

May you be blessed.