Az Yashir: Who is Like You Among the Heavenly Powers, Hashem!
צללו כעופרת במים, אדירים. מי כמכה באל(י)ם ה', מי כמכה נאדר בקדש...
They sank like lead in the waters, the mighty ones. Who is like You among the heavenly powers, Hashem! Who is like You, mighty in holiness…
From a simple reading of the end of our first pasuk, it would seem that the adjective “mighty” refers to the waters. However, the M’chilta explains the meaning to be: “They, the strong ones (the Egyptians), sank like lead in the water.” This understanding is supported by the trop (cantillation) note of tipcha under the word “במים–b’mayim,” which indicates a stop after that word. Therefore, the reading is as we translated above. [Rav Schwab on Prayer, referencing the Gemara (M’nachos 53a), based on the M’chilta on our first pasuk]
The message, according to Rav Schwab, of this reading and understanding is that Hashem permits the wicked to become powerful people who can inflict great suffering on B’nei Yisrael.
HaRav Schwab then proceeds to connect this to the next pasuk. The Gemara in Gittin (56b) explains, also based on a M’chilta, that the word “eilim” here is spelled without the letter yud. Chazal see in the word eilim (spelled without the yud) an allusion to the meaning “ileim” (i.e., mute). They explain it to mean: Who is like You among the mutes? You hear the suffering of Your children, but You remain silent as if You were mute.”
In the words of Rav Schwab:
However, at the time of K’rias Yam Suf, when their redemption from Egypt was finalized, B’nei Yisrael had reached a level in their emunah in which they accepted the tzaar of the galus, together with the g’ulah. Chazal see in the peculiar spelling of מי כמכה באלם ה' a reference to the acceptance by B’nei Yisrael of the fact that HaKadosh Baruch Hu remained אלם, silent, in the face of their long suffering. In the Shirah, then, B’nei Yisrael did not only exult over their g’ulah, but they also praised HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Whose will had caused their suffering in the galus. They understood that the Egyptians had become אדירים over them because it was the will of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. This thought continues: מי כמכה נאדר בקדש – Who is as mighty in holiness as You? K’dushah is something that is separated (See Rashi, Parshas K’doshim: VaYikra 19:2). There is nothing as powerful and far removed from our understanding as You are. While we praise You and accept our suffering, we simply cannot have any answers to the questions of מי כמכה באלמים ה'.
Even when we have no understanding and no answers, such as in the darkest periods of our history, we remember the words of Rabbi Akiva: לְעוֹלָם יְהֵא אָדָם רָגִיל לוֹמַר כׇּל דְּעָבֵיד רַחֲמָנָא לְטָב עָבֵיד (Gemara, B’rachos 60b) – A person should always accustom himself to saying that all that Hashem does is done for our benefit. In the past, we have quoted the M’silas Y’sharim, who writes:
כל מאי דעבדין מן שמיא לטב (ברכות ס:), וזה כי אפילו הצער ההוא והדחק הנראה בעיניו רעה, איננו באמת אלא טובה אמיתית.
וכמשל הרופא החותך את הבשר או את האבר שנפסד כדי שיבריא שאר הגוף ולא ימות, שאף על פי שהמעשה אכזרי לכאורה, אינו אלא רחמנות באמת, להיטיבו באחריתו, ולא יסיר החולה אהבתו מרופא בעבור זה המעשה, אלא אדרבא יוסיף לאהבה אותו –
כן הדבר הזה, כשיחשוב האדם שכל מה שהקדוש ברוך הוא עושה עמו – לטובתו הוא עושה, בין שיהיה בגופו, בין שיהיה בממונו, ואף על פי שהוא אינו רואה ואינו מבין איך זה הוא טובתו, וודאי טובתו הוא, הנה לא תחלש אהבתו מפני כל דחק או כל צער, אלא אדרבא תגבר ונוספה בו תמיד.
“All that Hashem does is for the good” (B’rachos 60b). For even this pain and difficulty that appears to one’s eyes as evil, is in truth nothing but true good. It is analogous to a doctor who must cut away flesh or amputate an infected limb so that the rest of the body may heal and not die. Even though the act appears at first to be cruel, it is really an act of true mercy, in order to eventually benefit him in the end. The patient will not cease to love the doctor due to this act. Rather, on the contrary, he will love him even more. So too here, when a person considers that all of what HaKadosh Baruch Hu does with him – whether to his body or to his possessions – is for his own good, even though he does not see nor understand how this is for his good, nevertheless, there is no doubt that it is indeed for his own good. Then, one’s love for Hashem will not become weakened from all difficulties and sufferings. Rather, on the contrary, it will intensify and increase in him always.
B’nei Yisrael rose to the highest levels of emunah when they sang praise not only for their salvation and redemption, but also for their suffering. They recognized that ultimately it was for their benefit, even if they didn’t understand how. Similarly, during Chanukah and Purim, when we recite the Al HaNisim in Shemoneh Esrei and Birkas HaMazon, we actually thank Hashem for the “milchamos” – for the actual battles – and not just for our salvation.
For many of us, the level we need to strive for is to accept and internalize (even if we can’t yet praise and thank) as absolute fact that whatever tzaros we have gone through in the past and may be undergoing in the present, as a Nation, as communities, as families, and as individuals – regardless of how painful it was and is – came and is coming from Hashem, for our ultimate benefit, with compassion and love. This is a very high level, too, in the face of pain and suffering.
May we merit to reach the highest level, actually increasing our love for Hashem (as the M’silas Y’sharim writes) as a result of our pain and suffering; and may the merit of our acceptance and increased love result in our final redemption, may it come speedily in our days.