Revelation and Rulership

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Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            “Hashem Mulch, Hashem Moloch, Hashem Yimloch leolam voed – Hashem is the Sovereign, Hashem was the Sovereign, Hashem will be Sovereign forever and ever.” Our Sages combined this sentence for our liturgy from verses appearing in different parts of Tanach. The three together comprise our absolute belief in Hashem’s Sovereignty from before time began to after time ends. Yet Bnei Yisroel witnessing the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies at the Red Sea sang only of the future, “Hashem will be Sovereign forever and ever.” Our Sages say that had Bnei Yisroel proclaimed God’s sovereignty in the present at the splitting of the sea, God’s sovereignty would never be hidden in the world and Moshiach would have come at that time. Why did Bnei Yisroel limit their proclamation of God’s overt sovereignty to the future, the timeframe most often found in our liturgy?

The Torah continues, “When Pharaoh’s cavalry came … into the sea and Hashem turned back the waters upon them … Bnei Yisroel walked on the dry land amid the sea. For sovereignty is Hashem’s and He rules over nations…”  Our liturgy then concludes with the prophecies from Psalms, Ovadiah and Zechariah when Hashem will be recognized as the ruler over all the nations of the world.

Our commentators ask if that continuation is part of the original song or rather an introduction to the Song of Miriam which follows. Although not universally accepted, that these verses are written as bricks in the Torah, in the same format as the entire preceding song would imply that these verses too were part of what Bnei Yisroel sang. Therefore it behooves us to find a connection between the first part of The Song of the Sea and Pharaoh’s chariots entering the water while we walked on dry land in the sea.

Let us begin our discussion with the ideas of Rav Pincus, in Tiferes Shimshon  who discusses the unusual construct of combining these three verses about God’s sovereignty into one. First, reminds us Rabbi Pincus, we must remember that past, present and future are all equal. Nevertheless, we must understand the differences between them. When was Hashem’s presence so manifest in the world that all truly recognized Him as Lord and King? During the time of the Beit Hamikdosh that Shlomo Hamelech built. Who was the first in history to recognize Hashem as the Sovereign of the universe? Our patriarch Abraham. If we count the generations from Abraham to Solomon and the building of the Beit Hamikdosh, we will note it is fifteen generations. Similarly, the generations from Rehovam son of Shlomo, when the kingdom split into the parallel kingdoms of Judah and the Ten Tribes of Israel to Tzidikiyahu, when the Temple was destroyed is also fifteen generations.

Rabbi Pincus compares this to the waxing and waning of the moon. It takes fifteen days for us to see the moon fully reflecting the sun’s light and another fifteen days when the moon seems to slowly disappear. In reality, the sun is always present and shining; only our ability to see it has been diminished. So too, Hashem’s sovereignty always exists, even when our ability to sense His presence around us is compromised. And in the future, Hashem’s presence will again be manifest and recognized throughout the world just as the full moon reflects the luminosity of the sun reflecting off it.

It is easy to recognize Hashem in the past and project Him into the future. The final verse of Psalms testifies, “All souls will praise God – Y-K - Hallelukah.” The four lettered God’s name – Y-K-V-K, refers to all time, past, present and future. By using only two letters of God’s name, we are admitting that we are distant from Hashem today. We recognize Him only as present in different parts of time, either in our history or in our future. Our challenge is to recognize God in the present, in our souls and in our daily lives, for it is the same God Who exists today as He existed in the past and Who will exist and be acknowledged by all as the One and true Sovereign of the universe. As Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz writes, when life challenges us, we may acknowledge the difficulty, but we must still know that Hashem is with me now, through the difficulty, even if His face is hidden from us. Therefore in our liturgy, writes Rabbi Sternbach in Taam Vodaath, we begin with the present tense, Hashem Melech, and by that awareness of Hashem in our daily lives, we can extend it to the past, Hashem Moloch, and to the future, Hashem Yimloch leolam voed.

When we proclaim this statement, we should be filled with joy as we accept Hashem’s sovereignty not just for ourselves, but also for our future generations, writes the Sifsei Chaim. We have an obligation to instill this same acknowledgement of and love for Hakodosh Boruch Hu in our children and our grandchildren. We must habituate ourselves to thank God for any good throughout the day so that our children hear us acknowledging Him from Whom all good comes. Further, very often Hashem is hidden from us. We pray that Hashem reveal His presence in our lives in those things that are olam, hidden so that we can acknowledge His presence in those areas as well.

We are still left with the question Rabbi Schwab asks: Certainly Bnei Yisroel felt Hashem’s palpable presence in their daily lives, especially at the splitting of the Sea. Why couldn’t they articulate it in their song and sing, in the present, Hashem is King for all eternity? Rabbi Schwab concludes that Bnei Yisroel made a choice similar to one Adam made in Eden. Adam, although commanded not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, was told he could eat of any other tree. Why did he not eat of the Tree of Life? Adam understood that if he ate of the Tree of Life, he would lose the ability to sin, and thus lose his freedom to serve Hashem through his own choice. Then he would be no different from the animals or the angels who are compelled to serve Hashem, as Rabbi Hirsch points out. They wanted to rise in their relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu through their choosing to do so, in spite of the allures and enticements of this world. Had Bnei Yisroel declared Hashem Sovereign over the world at that time and brought about that perfect world of Moshiach, they would have lost that freedom and the sense of accomplishment from choosing to serve Hashem of their own free will.

Rabbi Gifter points out that Pharaoh lost his free will and ability to repent by his constant sinning and denial of God. (Much like an addict who loses his freedom of choice over time and begins to act like an animal driven by uncontrollable instinct, Pharaoh too lost his freedom through addiction to sinning. - CKS) Bnei Yisroel did not want to lose their free choice and become mere puppets to God’s will.

The Chasam Sofer offers an intriguing insight into using the future tense in the Song, that Hashem will reign forever. The objective of dividing the sea was in fact to establish God’s sovereignty throughout the earth. Had the Egyptians survived and arisen on the other shore, they would have publicized the knowledge of Hashem. Because they died in the sea, Hashem’s sovereignty over all the nations was delayed. So why didn’t Hashem allow the Egyptians to survive and bring about His universal kingdom on earth? This, says Rashi, was the fault of some of Bnei Yisroel themselves whose faith was poor, and they needed concrete proof by a show of corpses that the Egyptians or any nation would not continue to pursue them. Therefore, says the Sifsei Chaim, the Egyptians drowning in the sea was integral to Israel’s declaration for the future of God’s sovereignty rather than for the present.

The Belzer Rebee in Imrei Kodesh notes a variation here from the earlier verse of the narrative. There Bnei Yisroel went into the sea on dry land. Here the order is reversed; they went on dry land within the sea. Notes Rabbi Yallin, water and the sea are symbolic of the spiritual realm while dry land is symbolic of the natural, physical world. That Bnei Yisroel could recognize Hashem upon entering the spiritual environs of the sea could be expected. But now, upon dry land, they could recognize Hashem’s presence in the physical, mundane world. They had prophesied in their song that God would “bring them and plant them on the mount of Your heritage, the foundation of Your dwelling place, which You have made Your sanctuary …” There, with the Beit Hamikdosh in their midst, it would be easy to keep the faith. But on dry land, in exile among the nations, it would be more difficult to see Hashem’s hand and providence in what seems to be a totally natural world. Yet it is specifically here, on the dry land, that we must continue to see God’s hidden hand and declare His sovereignty over all the nations. The Egyptians entering the sea and drowning brought home the point that inspired the song, writes Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, the point that God rules over nature, and history, and our mission is to remember and remind the world of God’s sovereignty over all.

We have come full circle from Moshe’s complaint about the worsening situation when he came unto Pharaoh to Pharaoh’s horses and chariots now coming into the sea. That Moshe and Bnei Yisroel could now discern that all that happened was orchestrated by Hashem was both the cause and the goal of their song, writes Rabbi Moshe Shapira in Mimaamakim. Just as Bnei Yisroel could see the hand of God then, even in the unfolding of seemingly natural events, we are to recognize that God’s hand is present in the unfolding of our daily lives. Therefore we remember these events and this song and the congregation calls out in unison, “Hashem will reign for all eternity – Hashem yimloch leolam voed” as we are about to begin the Shemoneh Esrei prayer.

Song has the ability to create beautiful harmony among parts and notes that are all different, writes Rabbi Moshe Wolfson in Emunat Etecha. That was the beauty of the Song of the Sea, that Bnei Yisroel came together in unison, and through this unity created a vessel, a chli where God could reign, could yimloch. In the future, writes Rabbi Grosbard, all flesh will recognize that it is Hashem Who speaks, and, just as we did at the Red Sea, we will again proclaim and sing, “Who is like you among the gods, Hashem.” Then all will see that Hashem truly reigns over the world, that everything both in the natural and in the “miraculous” exists only through the Ribbonoh shel Olam whom we declare to be our One Lord and God.