Torah thought forFriday 12 Shevat 5783 February 3 2023

Shabbat Shirah - Parashat Beshalach

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv (translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

A Person Only Retains Spiritual Achievements Which Are Acquired Through Effort and Groundwork

This Shabbat we shall read about the Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt, when Paro regretted allowing them to leave his land, as the passuk states:

“Paro and his officials changed their minds regarding the people, and said, ‘What have we done? How could we have released Am Yisrael from doing our work?’ [Paro] harnessed his chariot and summoned his people to go with him. He took 600 chariots with chosen crews, as well as the entire chariot corps of Egypt, with supporting infantry for them all. Hashem hardened the heart of Paro, king of Egypt, and he went after Am Yisrael” (Shemot 14:5-8).

Am Yisrael saw Paro and his army pursuing them, “Am Yisrael cried out to Hashem” (ibid. 10), some of them wanted to return to Egypt to be submissive, but Moshe Rabbeinu calmed the people and said to them:

“‘Don’t be afraid,’ replied Moshe to the people, ‘Stand firm and you will see what Hashem will do to rescue you today! You might be seeing the Egyptians today, but you will never see them again! Hashem will fight for you, but you must remain silent!’” (ibid 13:14).

Indeed, great and explosive miracles were performed for Am Yisrael at the sea, with the splitting of the sea, that was split in two, and the Bnei Yisrael went on dry land in the sea, whilst the water functioned as walls to their right and left. Then Hashem shook the wicked Egyptians into the sea, “Paro’s chariots and army He cast in the sea”, [ibid. 15:4], until not one of them survived.

Following this Moshe and the Bnei Yisrael sang to Hashem, “Moshe and Am Yisrael then sang this song to Hashem!” (ibid. 15:1).

Our chachamim explained (Mechilta, Beshalach Parashah 3) on the passuk “This is my G-d, I will glorify Him” (Shemot 15:2), Rebbi Eliezer says, from where may you deduce that a maidservant at the sea saw what Yechezkel and the other prophets never saw? As the passuk states the word, “This”. It is analogous to a king of flesh and blood who arrived at a country with ministers and warriors to his right and left, and soldiers in front and behind him, everyone asked who is this king of flesh and blood like them? But when Hashem appeared at the sea, no one asked who is this king, rather when they saw Him, they recognized Him and they all spontaneously burst furth with praise and said, “This is my G-d, I will glorify Him”! Meaning that even the simplest of maidservants merited to see amazing awe-inspiring visions of the revelation of the Shechinah (Hashem’s Presence), which the prophets of Am Yisrael never merited!

However, if we reflect, we will see something surprising. That a simple maidservant who despite meriting to see images and the revelation of the Shechinah shouted, “This is my G-d, I will glorify Him”, at the end remained a maidservant with no transformation. She continued in her daily grind, and we don’t hear anywhere that she became a prophet or a prestigious woman of any impressive personality. How can it be that these prophetic visions generated no tangible change in her life? How may this be understood?

The answer to this, is that when a person sees or experiences something without the appropriate preparation, or without any effort to fathom the depth of what is going on, there is no longevity to it. It has no continuity or meaning. Just like it came, so it evaporated without leaving a mark. Like the well-known [400 BC Chinese] adage amongst the populace, “easy come, easy go”.

True achievement only comes to a person through appropriate groundwork in order to receive what they yearn to attain. A person is able to rise [quickly], transcend, reach high spiritual mountains, and transform to become a different person. But they cannot maintain this, and when small difficulties appear, we see that they fall from their high perch, and they become a different person again, almost as they were before]. To maintain oneself in high altitudes, a person needs appropriate breathing apparatus for where they are located!

How may this be addressed? Through toil and sweat and unabating preparation. Therefore, it is clear why Yechezkel HaNavi, who saw visions of Hashem, which were opaque compared to the maidservant at the sea, merited to  high levels of prophecy and that his Book is counted amongst one of our books of the holy Prophets. This is because many holy levels are required from a person until they reach the [true, sustained] level of prophecy. Yechezkel certainly accomplished them all, he completely acquired his spiritual level. Whereas the maidservant that saw the Shechinah at the sea, was without preparation. Just as she was elevated spiritually in one second, so in one another, she declined from that level.

Spiritual achievements are acquired with the appropriate spiritual groundwork and hard graft in order to merit them!

David HaMelech expressed this in just a few words, “Who may ascend the mountain of Hashem?” (Tehillim 24:3), meaning that it’s not enough “to reach the top of Hashem’s mountain”, for it is possible to achieve this for one moment, through a few days of spiritual effort. But the main wisdom is, “and who may stand in the place of His sanctity?” (ibid.), meaning who is able to maintain and remain in that spiritual stature that they acquired for themselves for the duration of days and years. This is only achieved through hard work, proper guidance and groundwork! Any other way has no chance of remaining steadfast.

We see this principle also in the Talmud (Nidah 3b), where Rav Simla’ee explained, a child is taught in their mother’s stomach all of the Torah and once they enter this world an angel comes and slaps their mouth [their philtrum] and they forget all the Torah that they learnt.

It’s astonishing, why teach them all the Torah only to make them forget it? This is the same principle  as we said. The angel comes and teaches the child the following lesson. Realise Yourself! Whatever you learn without your own effort, without personal preparation, has no right to exist. Yes it will leave a faint mark, but the main achievements won’t endure. Therefore, what you studied in your mother’s stomach will be forgotten from you. But if you want something to be sustained, you must toil with all your strength and then you will merit to acquire it and retain it for many days and years.

It is related about the Vilna Gaon z”l (1720-1797) that heaven offered him an angel (maggid) that would teach him Torah, secrets and inner secrets. However, he refused because he wanted to achieve everything through his own hard work and toil, for in practice this is the secret to merit elevated spiritual levels and to retain them for long periods of time.

May we place this great principle as a [guiding] light for our feet and may we merit to ascend one level after another, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!