(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l, with some additional explanations)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
When the Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, the sea was split for them and they passed through it, the Torah states, “Hashem’s angel had been travelling in front of the Israelite camp, but now it moved and went behind them. The pillar of cloud therefore moved from in front of them and stood at their rear” (Shemot 14:9). Meaning that the Egyptians were unable to approach Bnei Yisrael all that night.
The chachamim said (Megillah 10b), at that time the ministering angels wanted to sing a shirah (song) to Hashem. Hashem said to them, “My creatures are drowning in the sea and you wish to recite a shirah?” On the face of it, it appears that “my creatures” refers to the Egyptians who were all about to be drowned in the sea and therefore inappropriate for the ministering angels to sing a shirah before Hashem at this time.
However, at that time the Egyptians were together with the Bnei Yisrael in the sea and both peoples were passing through on dry land. If so, what does it mean that Hashem said, “My creatures are drowning in the sea”? A further difficulty is that the Torah indicates praise for Moshe and Bnei “Yisrael’s shirah. Their main praise was indeed for the fall of their enemies that drowned in the sea. As the passuk states, “Paro’s chariots and army He cast in the sea; His very best officers were drowned in the Red Sea” (ibid. 15:4). If so, why did Hashem say, “My creatures are drowning in the sea and you wish to recite a shirah?” when Hashem loved the Bnei Yisrael’s shirah?
Maran ztz”l explained this in the name of Rabbeinu Shmuel Horowitz z”l (also known as Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg 1726–1778, in his work Divrei Shalom 39a), based on what our chachamim said in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 95b) concerning Sancheiriv. He had come to fight against Chizkiyah the king of Yehuda. At night Hashem’s angel came and killed Sancheiriv’s entire army, about which it states, “And it was on that [very] night: An angel of Hashem went out and struck them down 185,000 [people] of the Assyrian camp. The rest arose [early] in the morning and behold – they were all dead corpses!” (Kings II, 19:35). Rav Yitzchak the Blacksmith said, How did Hashem’s angel wipe out the entire Assyrian camp? He revealed to them the sound of the shirah from all the holy celestial angels and immediately their souls departed from their bodies and they died.
Here too, with Egypt the ministering angels wanted to sing a shirah and make their shirah heard by the Egyptians so that through this their souls should depart from their bodies. But Hashem said to them, “My creatures, Bnei Yisrael, are drowning in the sea, about which the Egyptians decreed, “Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile” (Shemot 1:22), if so, I must act measure for measure [see Shabbat 105b] and to drown the Egyptians in water until their souls depart, and you wish to say a shirah, which would make their death easier when they hear a shirah from the ministering angels?”
Just as Hashem performed great miracles and wonders for our fathers at the Red Sea, so in the future, Hashem will perform miracles and wonders for Am Yisrael and avenge them from their enemies. These future miracles are going to be bigger than the miracles performed in Egypt. As the passuk states, “Therefore, behold days are coming – the word of Hashem – when people will no longer swear, ‘As Hashem lives, Who brought the Children of Yisrael up from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘As Hashem lives, Who brought up and brought back the offspring of the House of Yisrael from the land of the North and from all the lands wherein He had dispersed them’; and they will dwell in their [own] land” (Yirmiyahu I, 23:7). Meaning, the future miracles that Hashem will perform, will be [considered the] main [ones] and much bigger than the miracles that were made in Egypt. May we merit and witness our complete redemption and may the following passuk be fulfilled with us, “As in the days when you left the land of Egypt I will show it wonders” (Michah 7:15), speedily in our days, Amen.