Az Yashir: Then Moshe Chose to Sing
אז ישיר משה Then Moshe chose to sing…
The word “אז–az (then)” is the subject of the following midrash (Sh’mos Rabbah, Perek 23):
"אז ישיר משה" – אמר משה: ב"אז" חטאתי, שאמרתי (שמות ה:כג) "ומאז באתי אל פרעה לדבר בשמך הרע לעם הזה" – ב"אז" אני אומר שירה. “Az yashir Moshe” – With [the word] “az” I sinned, when I stated (Sh’mos 5:23) “From the time I came to Par’oh to speak in Your Name, he did evil to this people” – with [the word] “az” I am saying shirah.
Moshe Rabbeinu, with the word “az,” relates to us that he now understands that what he originally saw as “bad” was truly good – so good, that he and all of B’nei Yisrael were now singing shirah, in part, due to that “bad.”
Initially, all Moshe saw was that Par’oh’s decree became even harsher after his initial encounter with Par’oh. That seemed to him as a worsening of the plight of the people he was supposed to be saving. However, at the end, Moshe realized that while the physical work became harder and more painful, this was actually for the benefit, and not for the detriment, of B’nei Yisrael.
How was it for their benefit? One way was that the degree of intensity of the labor took off years of slavery, and they were redeemed from Mitzrayim much sooner than they would have been without the harsher decree.
The Beis HaLevi offers an additional insight. He says that they sang shirah not simply because they were physically saved, but rather their primary joy was that they merited being a vehicle through which the world became more aware of Hashem’s awesomeness and power, and that He controls every aspect of the world. Increasing awareness of Hashem in the world is one of our great purposes in the world, and according to many, our primary purpose. Moshe and B’nei Yisrael now finally realized that all that Hashem had done was part of His master plan and design to increase that awareness to the world and to us ourselves, and it all happened through us, His beloved children. That is what brought them such immense joy that they had to sing the shirah.
The insight of “az” has great relevance to our own lives today. We all have painful and difficult times in our lives. During those times, we turn to Hashem and beg Him to take away the tzarah and pain and save us. When we are saved and look back, we thank Hashem for saving us. The greater the pain, generally the greater the appreciation and feeling of relief and joy.
On the other hand, though, many of us perhaps think to ourselves, “It would have been better if I didn’t have to go through the pain to begin with.”
Moshe and B’nei Yisrael, with the word “az,” taught us about a higher level. When we look back, we have the ability to recognize that our increased intensity in tefilah, our additional t’hilim, our increase in awareness of Hashem, our increase in emunah and bitachon through having to bear the pain, but pushing ourselves to continue to believe that all that Hashem does is ultimately for our benefit, are all tremendous gains that we would not have had without the painful event. These gains and more (perhaps atonement for sins and other possible very significant benefits) are priceless. By staying the course throughout our ordeal, we, too, increase k’vod Shamayim in the world, even if nobody knows how we are privately battling to remain steadfast in our emunah and bitachon, while bearing our pain, resulting in actually coming closer to Hashem through that pain.
David HaMelech teaches us an even higher level. The Gemara (B’rachos 60b) quotes the pasuk in T’hilim (perek 101, pasuk 1): “חסד ומשפט אשירה–Chesed u’mishpat ashirah (Of kindness and justice do I sing).” The level of David HaMelech was that even while in the midst of mishpat (judgment), meaning a painful and difficult time, he was able to sing to Hashem. All that we have written about comes after we are saved. If we can look back and see the benefit that Hashem bestowed upon us through the pain, that is already a tremendous level. David HaMelech went one step further and was able to sing about the benefit while in the midst of the pain.
May we be zocheh to constantly grow closer to Hashem and be vehicles to increase revelation of His Presence in the world.