פרשת בשלח | PDF
HASHEM DISCOURAGES THE MALACHIM FROM SAYING SHIRA
The Gemara in Megillah (10b) tells us of a most interesting exchange that took place between Hakodosh Boruch Hu and the malachim, just as the last Egyptian soldiers were flailing away in the depths of the Yam Suf and sinking to their deaths. Now, whether this exchange is something that actually happened, or if it’s just a mashal, is not important for us right now. What is important is the lesson that Hashem is trying to teach us here. So let us begin.
When the malachim witnessed the escape of the Am Yisroel from the Yam Suf, as well as the final and definitive destruction of the Egyptian army, they wanted to sing to Hashem. בקשו לומר שירה – “They wanted to sing songs of praise to Him.” But Hashem turned them down. מעשה ידי טובעין בים ואתם אומרים שירה – “My handiwork is drowning in the sea, and you want to sing to Me?!” Hashem said: “It hurts me to do this. I created the Egyptians; they’re My handiwork. The human being is the pinnacle of My creation. And every person is a wonderful machine, a remarkable contrivance! And now they’re drowning! How can you sing about the Egyptians drowning in the sea, gargling their last breaths?!”
Now, in the Reform temples, and I’m afraid to say even in the Modern Orthodox shuls, the Rabbis are very fond of this Gemara. They’re not so fond of the words of Chazal in general, but this piece they like. Of course they do! It gives them the opportunity to speak of loving all humanity, and about the mercy we ought to have on the wicked. “We don’t sing when the wicked Egyptians are being punished. We don’t punish; we only love.” the Reform rabbi intones from his pulpit. Because that’s what they’re interested in. They’re not interested in the truths of life. They’re interested in impressing the Sisterhood, and making friends with the liberal goyim out on the street. But they have it all wrong; it’s a terrible misunderstanding of this Gemara.
THE AM YISROEL SINGS ANYWAYS
So let’s understand it properly. Because there is a problem here. We know that אז ישיר משה ובני ישראל. Moshe and the Yidden did sing! And they rejoiced with a tremendous happiness. We say it every day: משה ובני ישראל לך ענו שירה בשמחה רבה – “Moshe and the Bnei Yisroel cried out to You in song, with tremendous happiness and joy.” And it wasn’t just some general praises that they sung, “Thank you very much,” and finished. They rejoiced in every detail of the destruction of the enemy. And it’s a song that we sing forever and ever. אז ישיר משה ובני ישראל. The word אז, “then,” denotes that it was an occurrence that began at that time and continues subsequently forever. Even to this day, this remarkable song of praise and gratitude is read from the Torah every year when the shabbos of B’shalach arrives, it is read again on the seventh day of Pesach, and we ourselves recite it from the siddur every day as part of our daily prayers.
WHO’S RIGHT? THE AM YISROEL OR THE MALACHIM?
So how are we to reconcile this seeming incongruity? Hashem tells the malachim, the same malachim who are busy all day long singing His praises, that He’s not interested in hearing their songs of praise right now. “My handiwork is drowning and that is not something to sing about.” And yet, at that same moment, we find the polar opposite. Moshe is leading the Am Yisroel in loud and joyous song, בשמחה רבה. And not only did they sing then, but we continue to sing that song to Hashem forever and ever. This beautiful shira, the song that Hashem refused to hear from the malachim, is repeated forever and ever by the children of Hashem as one of the most sublime songs of praise to Him. So what do we make of this?
MALACHIM DON’T GROW BY SINGING
And we’ll explain as follows. Malachim are not here to make progress. They weren’t created for the purpose of climbing the ladder of perfection, as we are. Now, since the objective of singing to Hashem is to bestir the mind with genuine feelings of gratitude towards Him, and to grow greater through that, the malachim’s attempt to sing praises is abruptly cut short. מעשה ידי טובעים בים ואתם אומרים שירה. “For what purpose are you singing to Me when you behold this great tragedy, the terrible misfortune brought upon the Egyptians?! The loss of human life is too precious to sing about unless it’s for the purpose of making progress. Just to sing for nothing? And since you, the malachim, are not going to be growing by means of this shira, I don’t want to hear it.”
Man, however, is in this world for one purpose only. And that is to make progress, to achieve. Of course you have to get married, and you have to make a living as well. You have to finish Shas, and raise a family, and a lot of other things as well. That’s all true. But every single one of those things, as well as everything else you do, revolves around making progress towards perfection. And you have to get that into your head because no matter how many times you hear it here, it’s not enough. You’re here in this world to make progress!!
THE CAREER OF MAN IN THIS WORLD
Now, among the many forms of perfection that a person must always be striving for, the most important achievement is the acquisition of a tangible awareness of the many gifts Hashem is showering upon him, as well as sincere feelings of gratitude. Man gains immensely from every grain of awareness of the kindliness of Hashem, and therefore, while a man is still in this world, as long as he’s still breathing, he must utilize every opportunity available to achieve more of this awareness. It’s not an accident that this world is so full of complicated creations, with endless variety of things to see. It’s all Hashem calling out to you, and prodding you along towards this perfection of awareness of His overwhelming kindness. Every fruit, drink, every piece of bread that you put in your mouth, is reminding you about Hashem’s kindliness. Every time you move your bowels, every step you take, every breath you breathe – it’s endless chasdei Hashem. And it’s all for the purpose of bestiring within you the genuine and heartfelt feelings of gratitude towards Him. Because that’s your career in this world – to be thanking Hashem always.
And since that is your function in this world, Hashem wants you to use any and every opportunity to grow great in this Awareness. Now, when Hashem creates an apple, or a piece of bread, He is not expending anything. He’s not giving up anything at all. And even so, we have to make sure to use that apple, and that piece of bread, to become more and more thankful. That’s our achrayus! And if we don’t, then that fruit and that piece of bread have gone to waste.
HASHEM “TAKES A HIT” FOR US
But when Hashem brings misfortune upon others, our responsibility to make use of this occurrence is infinitely more pressing than when He merely provides us with bread. Because Hashem is now expending something. He’s taking a loss. It’s His handiwork that is suffering, and that is a terrible price to pay. And so, when Hashem brings any sort of destruction upon the world, even upon the wicked, our responsibility to make use of that suffering becomes infinitely greater. Because it is not just a dandelion. It is not just an apple, a tree or a slice of bread. It is so much more than that. It is human life, human suffering. It is the handiwork of Hashem that is suffering.
And therefore, although Hashem is distressed by the destruction of the Egyptians – “The work of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you, the malachim, want to sing?!” – yet it is still worth this great expenditure of human life, if it would stimulate the Bnei Yisroel to sing Hashem’s praises and grow great thereby. And so, when Hashem heard the Bnei Yisroel break out in joyous song, Hashem’s will was fulfilled. “My children are using this precious opportunity to grow great!” The devastation of the Egyptian army was purposefully intended to elicit songs of praise from the Bnei Yisroel. And if the song of praise from them would not have been forthcoming, Hashem would have declared: “The work of My hands are drowning in the sea – they are being expended just for you to become great – and you are not singing to Me?!” The drowning of the Egyptians in the depths of the Yam Suf would have been completely in vain, and the lack of energetic songs of praise would have been considered a failure of colossal proportions, and a frustration of the plan of Hashem. Because if we dare ignore the opportunity, Hashem is saddened by this expenditure that human suffering is, and the blame for the suffering is laid at our own feet.
WHAT DO RWANDA AND NOVA SCOTIA HAVE TO DO WITH US?
The Gemara in Yevamos teaches us that אין פורעניות באה לעולם אלא בשביל ישראל – “Any misfortune that occurs in the world, comes only because of the Jewish people” (Yevamos 63a). The earthquake in Turkey, the violence in Rwanda, the crash last month of the airship in Nova Scotia – it’s important to know that these are all for you. They are not accidents. Everything that happens in the world is for a purpose, and we are learning now that the ultimate purpose is for the Am Yisroel. It’s all for us!
And so, when that airship sank into the ocean off Nova Scotia, that terrible expenditure in human life is expected to bring forth greatness from the Am Yisroel. Hashem could have let them land peacefully. And if He wished to simply end their lives, each one in his hometown could have gotten pneumonia or cancer. They could have died in a quiet way if that’s all that Hashem wanted. Why did Hashem bring them all together to die in such a spectacular way, all in one place as the plane crashed down into the ocean? And when you hear how in Rwanda, they’re murdering men, women and children; it’s such a terrible loss of life, such terrible suffering. You think that it’s merely tribal warfare that has nothing to do with us? No, it has everything to do with us. אינה באה אלא בשביל ישראל.
These events seem so far away. And they are – but only because Hashem made it happen elsewhere. But He’s doing it with you in mind, so that you should appreciate what you have – the safety and peace that you have in your own life. He want you to become more and more aware of the kindness that He is bestowing upon you. Now, I’m sure Hashem has many reasons for everything He does, but as far as you’re concerned, Hashem is declaring to you, “My handiwork is drowning off Nova Scotia; my handiwork lie suffocating under destroyed homes in Turkey; my handiwork is being brutally cut down in Rwanda – and you don’t sing my praises in appreciation of all the good you have?!”
THE SIMCHA OF PEACE
Do you know what it means to be able to walk out in the street and not to have to be afraid of violent gangs, vicious people with knives and swords who have no qualms about killing? It’s a simcha, a real simcha! And so when you hear about what’s doing in these far off countries, you should be full of joy, and אז ישיר, you should sing out in happiness to Hashem. Happiness that you’re living in peace, happiness that you’re alive, happiness that you don’t live in Rwanda or Turkey.
Hashem could have made all those terrible things happen here as well, chas v’shalom. But instead, He’s sending you messages from far-away places. He’s trying to entice you to sing out to Him in happiness, but you sit in your secure home, dead as a door nail, not thinking, not thanking, and not singing.
THE EVED HASHEM
Now, someone who wants to be an eved Hashem in the true sense of the word, will be sensitive to all of the countless examples of מעשה ידו טובעים בים that he sees around him all the time. It’s an attitude that you must acquire if you want to live successfully and therefore there is a lot to be gained by appreciating what is being said here tonight.
Any time that Hashem brings suffering upon even a single person, you become obligated to thank Him for saving you from that צרה. Hashem, by constantly sending into your life the more unfortunate victims of this world’s circumstances, wants you to know: “This could have been you! Appreciate what you have!”
You’re walking down Ocean Parkway, and coming towards you is a man tapping his way along the sidewalk with his long white stick. Oh, it’s a terrible thing to see! A man who lives a life of darkness, a man who will never see the face of his children, and never see a beautiful flower or a blossoming tree. Complete darkness! Everything is black for this poor fellow.
THE BLIND MAN GETS HIS SIGHT BACK!
But you must know that for you, it is a golden opportunity. Because you do have eyes and you are enjoying the sense of sight all day long. Only that you remain oblivious to it, without any appreciation of the value of the gift. And so, Hakodosh Boruch Hu is fulfilling His function of teaching you a way in life, and of guiding you towards the perfection you were created for. And how reckless it is to ignore that opportunity! That man who’s tapping his way along; just think if he could open his eyes again and enjoy the pleasure of sight. If only he would be able to cross the street unaided and do everything else that we take for granted. Can you imagine this man’s joy if a doctor would be able to provide him with sight?! He would be able to come back to the company of normal mankind! Would he make the bracha of pokei’ach ivrim in the morning like you make it, without any feeling? Would he rattle it off, mumbling his way through the bracha like you do? No! He would make a brocha that would raise the roof!
But now he’s tapping his cane at the edge of the curb trying to feel where the sidewalk ends and the street begins. He can’t make that brocha anymore. Oh yes, he can make it, but not for himself. He can make it perhaps because other people who have eyes, will help him. But he will never be able to make the bracha in appreciation of his own two eyes.
WHO’S THE REAL BLIND ONE?
But what about you?! You can see! It’s such a pleasure, such a remarkable gift. But you remain oblivious to this great benefit that you’re always enjoying. And that’s the great tragedy of life; the great tragedy of not appreciating what Hashem is bestowing upon you. You have no idea how fortunate you are because you never think about it. And therefore, this man was chosen as a messenger, an agent of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, sent to cross your path on this day, in order to make you wake up. The tapping on the sidewalk is actually Hashem tapping you on the shoulder, calling out to you, “Wake up, you “blind” fool. Wake up!”
If you pass by this fellow, and you don’t sing out in gratitude to Hashem for your two eyes, then you’re just as blind as him. Because you’re blind to your purpose in life! Two eyes, you have! Two eyes! Even one eye is a gift that would be worth singing to Hashem for without end. And you have two of them! But no, you walk by this fellow with as much thought as this shtender has. Like a dumb donkey, you walk by this blind man, and you don’t even open your mouth to thank Hashem. And Hakodosh Boruch Hu looks down at you with sadness and says מעשה ידי טובעים בים, “You see that My handiwork is drowning in a sea of darkness – I’m reminding you of what could have been; that could have just as well been you! – and you don’t open your mouth to sing to Me in gratitude for the pleasure of seeing with two functioning eyes?!”
And therefore, when you are reminded by Hashem that you have eyes – and that’s exactly why Hashem made this blind man pass before you – you should become delirious with happiness. It’s so much fun to have eyes! Say it; say it with your mouth. And don’t wait for the bracha the next morning to fulfill your function in life. That’s merely a technical procedure – important, but technical nonetheless. Your real opportunity for greatness is at that moment when you see the מעשה ידיו of Hashem in his misfortune. That’s your opportunity to recognize your own great fortune, and to think of what could have been. And you should call out to Hashem in gratitude for your eyes: “Thank You, Hashem for my two eyes! It’s such a simcha to be able to see the world!” Say it aloud! Don’t be ashamed; because this is what Hashem wants from you.
And that’s the way to begin enjoying life. Because every unfortunate person is contributing to you in that way. Your lives are enriched and you can become happier and happier, the more you see unfortunate people. And don’t make any mistake about that.
GROWING FROM THE MISFORTUNE OF OTHERS
Now, you tzadikim will of course recoil in horror at this idea. You’ll say, “Are we going to profit, and gain happiness, from the misfortunes of others? Is it right for us to rejoice in our good fortune when somebody else is suffering?” So I must tell you once and for all that the answer is yes, my friends; a resounding yes. And that is what you’re expected to do!
Now, certainly you should commiserate with the unfortunate. Absolutely! Whatever you can do to help is your obligation. Certainly you should try to feel their plight. Buy that’s not what we’re speaking about now. Right now, you’re not helping this man; you’re just passing by him on the street. You see him waiting for the light at the corner, as you drive by. You’re not stopping the car to get out and offer him some sympathy and money. You can if you wish, but that’s not what you’re doing right now. And therefore, all of your claims of sympathy and commiseration are only an excuse – an excuse to be lazy. Because actually a man should be b’simcha when he is reminded of the troubles that he doesn’t have; when he sees the misfortunes that Hashem has saved him from.
IGNORING THE UPS GUY
Don’t ever forget that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is using these unfortunate souls to transmit messages to you. And the message is being delivered but you don’t want to listen. It’s like a package that someone sent you and the mailman comes and no one’s home. He’s knocking at the door but nobody’s opening up. So the man leaves a slip telling you to pick it up at the post office; but you never come. And the package is lost forever.
And therefore, your sympathy for this person, your feelings of distress at what it means to be lacking such basic needs of daily life, should actually invigorate you with happiness, and bestir you to sing out to Hashem in happiness. You must get busy thanking Hashem that it didn’t happen to you. Because there is no question that our happiness is multiplied many times over by the understanding that Hashem has rescued us from distress that others are undergoing.
And so the thinking man, knows that he’s in this world for the purpose of becoming more and more happy and grateful to Hashem. And he is actually far happier now when he utilizes this test to grow great in gratitude to Him. You might not want to admit; you feel it’s wrong to enjoy other people’s suffering – and actually you should not enjoy their misfortune. But nobody is so built that he cannot be happy by the fact that he was saved from misfortune.
HASHEM IS ON THE JOB
And so you must make use of these hints, these messages, that Hashem is delivering to you every day. Because they’re being delivered all the time for this purpose. Only that you’re too “busy” with life to stop and think. But if you would care to open your eyes, you would see what Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants you to see. And you’d see it all the time. Hashem is on the job; He’s not lazy like you. And He’s sending you messengers and messages all the time.
Here you have a wheelchair being pushed down the sidewalk. And you see a boy, a teenage boy, who was born mentally deficient. He’s mumbling and drooling into his bib. You see his parents pushing him, trundling him in a wheelchair. It’s a rachmanus. A terrible pity! Immediately you can see on his face that he’s a mentally deficient boy. A big boy of sixteen, who is, לא עלינו, a dim-witted boy, a boy with almost no mind at all. Oy, it’s a terrible sight! But that’s the only child the parents have. So the poor parents are going out for a walk with their only child. They’re pushing him down the street in a wheelchair and he’s looking around this way and that way, his head dangling to the side. Oy, a rachmanus on everyone concerned. Oy, it’s a pity.
YOU’RE THE LOSER
But the greatest pity is on you. If you walked away and you didn’t utilize that scene, then you’re the one who is losing out. If you didn’t break out in joyous song to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, thanking him for your mind, then you’re the loser; you’re the failure. He’s not the loser! If you don’t stand the next day in shemonah esrei, and say the words ברוך אתה השם חונן הדעת with overwhelming gratitude, then you’re ignoring the hint from Hakodosh Boruch Hu. If after seeing such a sight you can bend down in Modim without tears of gratitude in your eyes, then Hashem says to you מעשה ידי טובעים בים – “My poor little sixteen year old boy is drowning in the sea of such a pitiful existence, and you don’t sing to me in song for what you have?!”
You must know that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is not going to do injustice to him. And when his time comes, in the next world, he’ll be compensated for doing his job. He worked faithfully all his years in acting his part as he was being pushed down the street in his wheelchair. He was turning his head from side to side, with his mouth wide open. Such a sad sight. And he was teaching us a lesson that we must not fail to learn. So Hakodosh Baruch Hu is going to reward him. He’ll get his full pay. In the next world, he’ll be rewarded like a tzaddik, because he is. He didn’t sin and he was useful.
But the pity is on us if we don’t listen to the messages of Hashem. The rest of your lives, you should enjoy the fact that you have a normal intelligence. A normal face, and also that your children are normal. When you see this boy, you have to sing out and thank Hashem that you are not a prisoner for life like he is. Oh, is it a simcha to be normal! Some people are confined from birth. From birth their parents have to put them in an institution, and that’s where they must live out their pathetic lives. Totally incapable of doing a thing for themselves. They are fed and diapered by others. It’s a rachmanus just to think about it.
And you?! You are perfectly able to function. You may not be a gadol hador, or l’havdil, a big professor. But you’re able to go to the bathroom on your own and you can feed yourself. You’re able to take a job, maybe not a big job, but even if it’s only a menial job – you’re capable; you’re able to function.
And therefore, when you see this boy, you should cry out to Hashem in happiness: יהא שמיה רבה מברך. You should be blessing the great name of Hashem who gave you a mind. And all day long, after seeing such a sight, you should be blessing His great name for saving you from that terrible misfortune of having no mind. All day long! Until you’re standing in shul at the end of the day, and when the chazan says kaddish, you’ll call out with all of your heart, with the deepest feelings of gratitude to Hashem: אמן יהא שמיה רבה מברך לעלם ולעלמי עלמיא. “The name of Hashem should be praised forever and ever for what He’s done for me” That’s what kaddish is for – to praise Hashem for all that He did for you. So give a shout, “May His great name be blessed forever and ever! I’m so lucky to have a mind. Thank You, Hashem.” Some of our best are yelling out these words בכל כוחו, as loud as they could, but what is it worth if they’re not thinking about what it means?
THE CHOSSON GETS THE BAD NEWS
How can you go through life and not be truly happy that you don’t have chas v’shalom a sarcoma, a tumor in the thigh? A sarcoma in the thigh! What a terrible letdown. Here’s a man who has it. A man who lived right here. He just recently married, and now he’s looking forward to a happy career with his kallah. And suddenly he has a pain in his thigh. Now, at first he tries to ignore it, but it continues. And finally he goes from one doctor to another and then the dreaded news come. Ay yay yay – the terrible news! He discovers the news of what he has and then he comes to me. He comes to me saying, “What is going to happen?!” And I know what’s going to happen. I know. So I told him he should steele himself for what’s in store for him; that he should prepare. And he broke down crying. It was terrible. He wept as I was talking to him. He went through a very hard time subsequently, this young man. And finally he passed away.
Now suppose that young man suddenly became well. Do you think he would ignore the fact that his thigh moves forward effortlessly as he paces the street? That would have been for him the greatest happiness! He wouldn’t need any of his other ambitions to be realized. Even if his kallah would forsake him and even if all his life he would remain a pauper, that would be success for him. He would be delirious with joy! And should we be any less happy just because we never got the dreaded news from a doctor?
And how will we ever know how fortunate we are that we are able to stand up after this lecture and stretch? And then after Ma’ariv we’ll stride off without thinking המכין מצעדי גבר, how Hakodosh Boruch Hu has manipulated and so contrived our bodies that our joints function so effortlessly, as if they were lubricated with oil between the moving bones. You know that there are bones that almost touch each other. Only that there is a thin layer of mucus tissue that is constantly lubricated. Miracle of miracles! Just by drinking water and ordinary food, your bones are lubricated. That water and food is processed into a certain lubrication that allows the joints to rub against each other without chafing. And nothing harmful develops. You’ll continue living all your lives, maybe until 120 years, and never experience any discomfort. But it’s a wasted career of healthy joints because you never think about it and therefore you never appreciate them. A wasted career; because what are healthy bones for if not for thanking Hashem?!
THE CHOSSON BECOMES A LESSON FOREVER AND EVER
But Hakodosh Boruch Hu has pity on you. He doesn’t want you to waste your career in this world. He wants you to be a success. And how does He do that? Through this young man with sarcoma. He has now become a lesson for all of us. Because this lecture will be listened to by many people, even outside of this place. And they’re going to learn the happiness of having healthy joints and bones. If a person will listen to this again and again and never tire of it, and if they’ll repeat it to themselves and practice it many times while walking, that would be their greatest success. They get up in the morning and they get off their beds painlessly and they’ll remember the story that I’m telling you of this young man who couldn’t get off his bed. He had to roll off and fall onto the floor. It was excruciating pain for him to stand. The pain never let up, even while he was lying in bed, much less when he was standing on his two feet. And you! What about you?! You get up in the morning, and you’re able to stand up on your two feet. You should be full of love to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Your heart should go out to your Creator and you should thank Him, because that’s truly living. That’s the purpose of living.
Now, that’s what Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants everyone to do. And if you don’t, you are a derelict; you are falling down on your job. Because Hashem wants you to learn from all of these messengers. When you see this man, this man with the sarcoma, Hashem wants you to appreciate that it didn’t happen to you. You should be thanking Him and enjoy your fortune of being safe from these terrible mishaps.
Because you would never know, you would never appreciate what you have, unless someone was chosen to be the object from which we are to learn from. There is no doubt that Hakodosh Boruch Hu needs people to serve as lessons for others. And why is that? Because mankind is unaware of their happiness unless they see someone who is less fortunate than they are.
And this young man was elected. Now, why he was elected is not for me to say. It could be that he was a perfectly righteous man and there is some other purpose as well, a purpose beyond my ken, for which he was chosen. But this certainly we know – it is certain that he was chosen so that we should learn from him. The people who see him, who know him, and those of us here who now know his story.
Do you think it’s just a random occurrence when you see a man wheeling himself down the sidewalk in a wheelchair? Here’s a young man, imprisoned in his wheelchair, a man who was told by the doctors that he will never be able to walk again. And now you pass by him on the street. Do you think that this wasn’t a purposeful encounter planned by Hashem?!
EVERYTHING IS A TEST
כל עניני העולם נסיונות הם לאדם – “All of the events that occur in the life of a person, all of the phenomena that he witnesses, all of the people that he encounters, all of the objects that he sees – everything, without any exclusion at all, is meant to be a test for him” (Mesillas Yesharim). Why did Hashem make you pass by this person today? It didn’t have to be. He could have gone a different route. You could have passed by a minute earlier or later and not seen him. You must know that it was all purposefully planned by Hashem. כל עניני העולם means that everything is test!
And therefore, when Hashem sends a man hobbling past you on crutches, or a man sitting in the wheelchair with his legs cut off below the knee, He’s tapping you on your shoulder, “Remember what I’m doing for you!” And you should dance with happiness with your healthy feet. You should sing to Hashem in gratitude and skip and hop all the way home.
THE DIALYSIS BUILDING
As you pass by the medical building where patients are arriving for their dialysis, it’s the most wonderful opportunity for you to become overflowing with gratitude to Hashem. There’s no greater preparation for the bracha of asher yatzar than seeing the nurses taking a man out of the ambulette, bringing him into the building where he’ll be hooked up to large machines that will act as his kidneys, removing all the impurities from his body – something that you accomplish so easily without the help of machines. Hashem is reminding you that your kidneys are functioning. You’re able to urinate normally? It’s a simcha!
THE GENTILE IN THE PARK
There is man in our neighborhood, a gentile, who I pass by frequently when I walk on Kings Highway. He sits on a bench in that little park over there. And he has a pipe, a tube coming out of his body, and that’s how he uses the bathroom. He empties himself into a bag that has to be cleaned out periodically. And every time I see him, I am filled with gratitude to Hashem. I am overwhelmed with happiness that that I don’t need a colostomy bag hanging on my side. Sometimes I’ll sit down for a few minutes on the bench across the street from him, thanking Hashem for my good fortune.
And therefore, when Hashem reminds you that you have eyes, and that you can walk, and that you have functioning kidneys, and that you don’t need a colostomy bag, and so many other reminders all day long, Hashem wants you to call out to Him in gratitude. Because that is the purpose of these seemingly random meetings that you are having in the street or wherever you may go.
THE MAN WITHOUT A HEAD
And so, when you see somebody who has any sort of misfortune, and you walk by, you drive by, like a man without a head, without thinking of why Hashem brought that scene before your eyes, so Hashem says to you: מעשה ידי טובעים בים ואתה אינו אומר שירה?! “My handiwork is drowning in the suffering of blindness, in kidney disease, in the loneliness of an empty home, and so many other things, and you – you who are drowning in happiness – you don’t call out to me in delirious songs of joy?!” What does it help to see these sights that Hashem is showing you, if you don’t apply your thoughts to them?!
And that’s why when the Am Yisroel stood on the shore of the Yam Suf, and watched the bodies of the dead Egyptian soldiers washing ashore, it says וירא – “And they saw,” two times. Two times, וירא, וירא. What is this repetition for? And the answer is that it was a double seeing. The first one was accomplished by their eyes (14:30), and the second by their intellect (14:31). The method of gaining the correct attitude from the sights that Hashem sets before us, doesn’t come by itself. Good things require effort. It is only when man takes the sights that are before his flesh and blood eyes, and impresses those messages onto his mind, only that can be called true achievement. And when the Bnei Yisroel fulfilled the second וירא, when they seared those lessons onto their minds, that’s when they they broke out in song – אז ישיר!
And if you don’t feel that joy of the great benefits that Hashem has blessed you with, if you don’t feel that way when you see the מעשה ידיו טובעים בים, then you are a man who is not thinking at all. You are fulfilling the first וירא, seeing the unfortunate circumstances sent down upon man. But you are not fulfilling the second and more important וירא, which is understanding what you’re seeing, and singing in joyous gratitude. And the one who sees the unfortunate, but doesn’t sing in joy to His Creator for what he possesses, that man is a most selfish person, a כפוי טובה.
THE TEN PLAGUES COME UPON AM YISROEL
And now you can understand a possuk that should have always bothered you. In this week’s parsha (15:26), Hashem promises the Am Yisroel that אם שמוע תשמע לקול השם אלוקיך והישר בעיניו תעשה והאזנת למצוותיו ושמרת כל חוקיו כל המחלה אשר שמתי במצרים לא אשים עליך – “If you listen diligently to the the voice of Hashem…and you observe all of My decrees, then any of the diseases that I put upon Egypt, I shall not put on you.” Now this promise seems entirely unnecessary, for why would we even entertain the idea that the Am Yisroel would undergo the punishments that were sent upon the Egyptians, their oppressors?
But what we are learning here is that one of the purposes of the plagues that were brought upon Egypt, was to impress upon the minds of the Am Yisroel the recognition of the happiness that Hashem is providing them with. And to bring a fear into their hearts of what could be, of what it means to suffer. We said earlier that “no retribution comes upon the world, except for the benefit of the Am Yisroel” (Yevamos 63a): to make us aware of our great fortune. Hashem sets before the Am Yisroel the prospect of retribution, in order to encourage us to recognize His kindness, and not have to suffer the misfortunes ourselves.
TAKING THE HINT
And that leads us to the very important subject of learning how to take hints. Hashem is always prodding you forwards towards greatness. He sets before you the opportunities for perfection in Awareness of Him, and gratitude towards Him, and is sending you hints of what He wants. But some people want to remain thick-headed; they would rather be lazy and make their way through life without having to work at achieving what Hashem wants from them.
But Hashem wants to help you, to encourage you. So first he sends you a neighbor who’s wearing a cast. A cast; not so serious. He’ll be OK. But Hashem wants to remind you about your healthy arm. Everything is working by you. No cast, no bandage. You’re a lucky man! But you’re not thinking. You’re not listening.
THE EMPTY SLEEVE
So he sends you another hint. And then again, hint after hint. And as you walk to shul in the morning, you pass by a man with an empty sleeve, a sleeve without an arm. Oy vey, oy vey! To have only one arm! “Oy vey! Hashem thank You so much for my two arms.” And finally you wake up from your slumber. You bend your arm at the elbow back and forth, and bend your fingers every which way, and you say, “Hashem, everything is working! Thank You so much for my arms and my fingers.” And you should be singing all day in happiness because of your two arms that are hanging from the sides of your body. Every time you use your arm during the day, you’re reminded of that empty sleeve, and you look down at your arms in joy.
But some people don’t take a hint. Hashem is trying, but nothing doing. This man has more important things to think about. Maybe his wife upset him this morning, she said something very sharp to him, and now that’s what’s on his mind. He doesn’t have time for Hashem’s hints – he’s busy thinking about those sharp words. And Hashem says מעשה ידי טובעים בים ואתם לא אומרים שירה?!
HASHEM WON’T GIVE UP
But Hashem won’t give up. Because even though you might not know why you’re in this world, Hashem does know. And He’s not going to give up on you. And so, chas v’shalom, He might have to give you a little prick, a little prick on your arm, to wake you up. Hashem wanted that כל המחלה אשר שמתי במצרים לא אשים עליך, but you’re not listening to Him, you’re not שמוע תשמע לקול השם אלוקיך.
And so, one morning you wake up with a throbbing pain in your elbow. And you ignore it, hoping that it’s nothing. You’re still not willing to be תשמע לקול השם אלוקיך. But it doesn’t go away, you feel the throbbing in the bone, and you can’t ignore it any longer. And your doctor is concerned and he sends you to a specialist for some tests, and suddenly you begin to get nervous. And you notice a strange growth that doesn’t look good. And now you’re waiting for the results, and the worst scenarios are running through your mind. You know that the doctors are thinking about that dreaded word. “Oh! Now I remember that man without the arm, the empty sleeve dangling along. Why didn’t I listen to the message that Hashem was sending me then, to thank Him, and to sing to Him for my healthy arms?”
THE GREAT TRAGEDY OF LIFE
It is a weakness of mankind that they never appreciate their happiness while they have it. It’s an unfortunate fact, but it’s a fact. A man is getting chemotherapy treatments in the hospital and he’s sitting near the window. And he looks down at the populace walking through the streets carefree, and he envies every one of them. Oh, what would he give to be in their place?! But they are oblivious. They have no idea how fortunate they are. And that is the great tragedy of life. I might even say it is the tragedy of life. And even though people who frequent this place heard something about it already, you have to know that you didn’t begin to hear!
Because you are that person who is walking carefree down the street, oblivious to the man who is looking down at you with envy from the hospital window. And your job, is to be looking up at him, and appreciating what you’ve been saved from. To appreciate the happiness of life is a very important function of our existence. And the great tragedy of mankind is that they are not doing it. You’re passing your days in ignorance of what you possess. Until the time comes when Hashem must put an end to the messages of מעשה ידי טבעים בים that you ignore, and you too will have to bid farewell to all this joy. And only then do you realize what you once had.
Now, I know that this just seems like words to people, because everyone has his own cares, his own ambitions. And even though you donated an hour of your time on Thursday night to listen to this lecture, you think that it’s perhaps an exaggeration, or a poetic attitude. And that’s why you must get busy working on this right away. Right away! You must begin listen to the messages that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is sending all the time. Because He’s sending them for you.
THE GOY WASHES HIS CAR
Even the most subtle messages from Hashem are precious lessons that should never be ignored. When you pass by your gentile neighbor shining his car on a Shabbos afternoon. Hours on polishing a car?! Yes, because that’s what his life is, a shiny car. Don’t you realize that Hashem made you cross his path for a sublime purpose? And Hashem is trying hard. He’s sending you the messages waiting for you to sing out to Him in joy, ברוך אתה השם שלא עשני גוי!
And when you pass your fellow in the street who is still looking for a job – “Thank You Hashem for my parnasa. Thank You for providing me with at least a most basic way to make a living.” And there are many unfortunate people who are a part of your life; you’ve gotten used to seeing them. And therefore you don’t even take notice anymore. And that’s a reckless move! Because no matter how many times you come face to face with unfortunate circumstances, you should never tire of thanking Hashem. If you look for the messages from Hashem, you will surely find them, because they are there. Hashem is always trying to remind you how much you have; how much happiness you already have.
And that’s what Hashem wants of you – to begin enjoying life. Not in the sordid sense of pursuing pleasure in the crude manner of the hedonist. But to enjoy it in the delicate and mature manner of the man who understands the happiness of living peacefully and healthfully in this world. Because that is the function that Hakodosh Boruch Hu expects of everybody. And that’s why he is forever placing before you various forms of His מעשה ידי טובעים בים, encouraging you always to sing out to Him in joyous song. אז ישיר משה ובני ישראל. It was on that great day that we learned the lesson of never letting the misfortune of others be wasted in vain. Hashem’s exchange with the malachim taught us the importance of using the misfortune of others for our own greatness. And therefore we will forever and ever sing to Hashem for the great kindliness that He is always bestowing upon us, and for all of the pleasures, conveniences, and forms of happiness that make up our lives.
Have a wonderful Shabbos