PESACH, SEVENTH DAY April 13, 2001
by Irwin Brodo
Today we read two of the greatest songs of thanksgiving, the Song of Moses, and the Song of David (in the haftorah), an appropriate way of approaching the close of our festival of liberation.
The sedrah begins with an account of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. The Israelites fleeing from the Egyptians, pause and camp between Migdol and the sea. Meanwhile, Pharaoh, recovering from his shock at the loss of his son and all the first-born of Egypt, vows to overtake the Israelites and bring them back. He intended to do this with an army of 600 of his best charioteers and about 2400 soldiers on horseback. Even though there were 600,000 Israelites, the people were terrified of the approaching Egyptians and cried out to Moses. Moses tries to calm their fears with the promise that G-d will dramatically deliver them out of this predicament. He turns to pray, but G-d chides him and says that this is no time for praying; this is a time for action! G-d commands Moses to lift his staff towards the sea, and the sea will divide allowing the Israelites to escape over dry land. Whatever happened that night must have been really something, because it has come down to us as a miracle of fantastic proportions. Anyone who has experienced the gospel according to Cecil B. DeMille knows what I am talking about.
And so the Israelites enter the sea (at first, into the water up to their nostrils, according to one midrash, based on the sentence [14:22] that they went into the sea on dry land); the waters divide and the pass through to the other shore in safety. The pursuing chariots, however, become mired in the mud and wet sand, and the entire army, horses and chariots... and finally, it is said, Pharoah himself... die when the waters return.
Safe on the dry farther shore, Moses sings a hymn of thanksgiving, and Miriam joins in with songs of her own. Mi chamocha ba'aylim hashem; mi chamocha ne'dah bakodesh; noreh t'hilah oseh feleh Who is like You, Lord, among the mighty ...? It is a hymn that we say every day.
The haftorah is also a hymn of thanksgiving to G-d for G-d's deliverance. This time, it is said by David when he has escaped from a pursuing King Saul, intent to kill him. Saul, growing old and mentally unbalanced, fiercely jealous of David, vows to kill him, imagining that David has his eyes on the throne. David is forced to flee the court and take refuge in the wilderness around the Dead Sea. Saul eventually is forced to face the Philistines in a decisive battle that ended in his suicide and the death of three of his sons, including Jonathan, David's dear friend. Following the death of Saul and Jonathan, David, ever the talented poet, composes another elequent hymn, " Thy beauty, O Israel, upon thy high places is slain! How the mighty have fallen..."
David survives, as we know, to become a great king, albeit at times a bloodthirsty warrior-king, and grows old among all sorts of internal royal intrigues and murders among his heirs. Although according to tradition, David dies in his bed, there is an interesting Sephardic story* about David outwitting the angel of death... almost. It emphasizes David's devotion to G-d and learning as well as his cleverness.
[André Elbaz's story: p. 142]
Not to stray too far from Pesah, I can't resist telling another Sephardic tale from Elbaz's book, this one about a Pesah soup.
*Elbaz, André E. 1982. Folktales of the Canadian Separdim. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg & Vancouver.