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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach-Tu Bishvat | 5764

The Privilege to Act

Harav Yosef Carmel

 One of the more popular songs heard at festive occasions these days is a new tune to the eternal words from our parasha: “Stand up and see the salvation of Hashem” (Shemot 14:3). Moshe Rabbeinu invited the nation to witness Hashem’s salvation at Yam Suf, which transpired in the form of, “Hashem will fight for you, and you shall be silent” (ibid.:14). Was this passive salvation on Bnei Yisrael’s part optimal or, on the contrary, was it a sign of Hashem’s disapproval of their actions? After all, when encountered with the threat of Paroh’s army, Bnei Yisrael had complained to Moshe that they would have been better off remaining slaves in Egypt. Were they deserving of the most uplifting salvation possible?
 The midrash (Eicha Rabba) relates the background of the victories of four important kings of Israel. David asked of Hashem to help him smite his enemies, and Hashem agreed. King Assa, who reigned a few generations later, told Hashem that he did not have the strength to kill his enemies, but only to chase them and have Hashem do the actual work. Indeed, this is what happened, as the pasuk confirms, “Assa chased …for they were broken before Hashem” (Divrei Hayamim II, 14:12). Yehoshafat said to Hashem that he didn’t even have the strength to chase but would sing songs of praise to Hashem, and Hashem agreed that this would suffice (see ibid., 20:22). Finally, Chizkiyahu said that he did not have strength, not to kill, or chase, or even sing Hashem’s praises. Rather, Hashem agreed to save him as he lay on his bed at night, as Hashem brought a plague on the encampment of the Assyrians.
 This midrash illustrates the famous principle of yeridat hadorot (the deterioration of subsequent generations). David’s approach was the most lauded. He had faith in Hashem, but he was willing to actively and fully take part in Hashem’s wars. On the other extreme was Chizkiyahu, who didn’t even have the ability to sing the praises of Hashem. (R. Yehoshua b. Levi’s statement is well known, that Chizkiayahu’s failure to sing praises, even after his miraculous salvation, cost him the opportunity to be the Mashiach (see Shir Hashirim Rabba, 4).
 We see that active, physical involvement by the saved in their salvation is the preferred course of action. If so, we can conclude that this opportunity was taken away from Bnei Yisrael when they said, “it is better for us to work for Egypt.” Not only did Hashem tell them that He alone would fight for them, but He also warned them, “and you shall remain silent.” Only after the mesirut nefesh that brought them to enter the stormy sea did they merit to sing, “Az Yashir.”
 The only thing greater than witnessing the biggest miracles in the history of the world is to take part in them. But one needs the strength and courage, physically and spiritually, to do so.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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