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The Song of the Sea and Tu Bishvat

Shirat ha-Yam (The Song of the Sea) is the basis for the enactment of saying Hallel for every salvation done for Israel, and by its virtue, we say Hallel on Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day * The space between words in the Sefer Torah expresses supreme inspiration, and since the Song comes to express an extremely elevated idea, there is a need for large spaces * A tree is similar to a human being, both of which have to go through a long process until they reach maturity, but afterwards, their fruits are finer than other species

After the splitting of the Red Sea, thanks to Moshe Rabbeinu, Israel merited rising to an exceptionally high spiritual level, in which they were able to sing along with him, a song to God. The time was suitable for this, since at the splitting of the Red Sea, the series of miracles by which God brought Israel out of Egypt was sealed. At that moment it was revealed that the Lord is the God in heaven and earth, and He, with all his greatness, remembered his promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and brought their sons who were lowly slaves in Egypt to freedom, to be an Am Segulah (a treasured nation) for Him.

At that time, Israel merited reaching a high degree of emunah (faith), as a result of which, they were able to sing an exalted song. Our Sages said: “By virtue of emunah, ruach ha-kodesh (Divine inspiration) dwelled over them, and they sang a song, as it is written: ‘And they believed in God, and that Moshe was His servant. Then Moshe and the Israelites sang this song to God'” (Mechilta D’Rashbi, Shemot Rabbah 22:2). The Maharal explains that emunah brings joy, and as a result, the ability to rise to the level of singing a song (Gevorot 5:7; 9). In the merit of that emunah and song, Israel merited to inherit the Land (Tanchuma Beshalach 10).

In Shirat Ha-Yam, the Resurrection of the Dead was Promised

Rabbi Meir said (Sanhedrin 91b), that the source in the Torah for techiyat ha-meytim (the resurrection of the dead) is derived from Shirat Ha-Yam, in which it is written: “Then (in Heb., ‘az yashir’) Moshe and the Israelites sang this song to God.” It is not said “shar” in the past tense, rather “yashir” (‘will sing’) in the future tense – “from here, techiyat ha-meytim is derived from the Torah”, in other words, that in the future, Israel will be resurrected and sing once again together with Moshe Rabbeinu, a song to God.

It can be added and explained that out of Israel’s spiritual ascent in Shirat ha-Yam, the vitality of the neshama (soul) was revealed with such great force, that it has the power to overcome death. For a neshama that is capable of singing such a song to the Living God, cannot perish. However, as long as the world is not perfected, the sentence of death affects man. Nevertheless, after the perfection is completed, the vitality of the emunah revealed in Shirat ha-Yam will break through the barriers, and the righteous will rise in techiyat ha-meytim, and sing a new song to God.

The Root of Salvation and Praise for Generations

Shirat ha-Yam is the basis for the enactment of saying Hallel for every salvation done for Israel. As explained in the Talmud (Pesachim 117a), that after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, “The Prophets among them established this Hallel for the Jewish people, that they should recite it on every appropriate occasion; and for every trouble, may it not come upon them, they recite the supplications included in Hallel. When they are redeemed, they recite it over their redemption, as Hallel includes expressions of gratitude for the redemption. Rashi explained that according to this, our Sages enacted in the days of the Second Temple to say Hallel on Hanukkah. And our Sages stipulated this from what was said in Shirat ha-YamVa-yamru laymor” (‘And they said thus’) – “We will say to our sons, and our sons to their sons, that they will say this song before You, when You will perform miracles for them” (Ex. Rabbah 23:12).

Accordingly, we thank God on Israel Independence Day by saying Hallel with a blessing, for on that day we were saved from the hardship of exile and servitude to foreigners, which caused all the terrible decrees and murders for two thousand years, and in a miraculous and incomparable way, the promise made by God, to gather our exiles to our Land, was fulfilled in us. We also say Hallel on Jerusalem Day, the day on which a great salvation was done for Israel in victory over many enemies, and we were privileged to liberate the heart of the Land – the Old City of Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria.

The Price of Neglecting to Recite Song and Praise

One should be very careful not to be negligent in reciting song. It is told about King Hezekiah, who was a great tzaddik and merited significantly increasing Torah study among Israel. Hard times came upon him when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, destroyed Judea and laid siege to Jerusalem. God performed a great miracle for him, and killed Sennacherib’s entire army in one night. At that moment, God wanted to designate Hezekiah Messiah, and Sennacherib Gog and Magog, and bring redemption to the world. However, Hezekiah did recite a song, i.e., Hallel, on his redemption.

“The attribute of justice said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, and if with regard to David, king of Israel, who recited several songs and praises before You, You did not designate him as the Messiah, then with regard to Hezekiah, for whom You performed all these miracles, and he did not recite praise before You, will You designate him as the Messiah? It is for that reason the opportunity for redemption was thwarted. Immediately, the earth began and stated before Him: Master of the Universe, I will recite song before You in place of that righteous person. The angel appointed to oversee the world said before Him: Master of the Universe, perform the will of this righteous person. A Divine Voice emerged and said: “My secret is Mine, My secret is Mine”; this matter will remain secret, as I am not yet bringing the redemption. The prophet said: “Woe unto me, woe unto me”; until when will the exile continue?” (Sanhedrin 94a).

The Space between Letters in the Torah

When writing a Sefer Torah, the scribe must be careful not to have one letter stick to another, the halakha being that each letter must be surrounded by the whiteness of the parchment, and if one letter sticks to another, or reaches the edge of the parchment – since the letter is not surrounded by the whiteness of the parchment, the Torah is invalid. Between words, a space the size of a small letter must be left, and if not – it’s invalid. And before each parshiya (section), a space the size of nine letters must be left, and if not, it’s invalid.

A remez (hint) lies in this halakha: the black letters express everything we know and understand and can explain; consequently, we are able to express these ideas by means of the letters. However, there are sublime, superior, and deep ideas that cannot be expressed; they are so elevated that no word or letter can contain, or explain them. At the same time, nevertheless, we know they exist and influence our lives; all our perceptions and thoughts are derived from them. They are the “ohr ha-makif” (the surrounding/enveloping light).

The white parchment surrounding each letter expresses these higher ideas, which cannot be expressed. And from the white parchment the black letter is revealed, and we are able to see it. From what is beyond recognition, familiar and clear ideas are revealed to us. This is the foundation of the Torah: its source is heavenly and exalted, and it descends to our actual, daily lives. And before each word, a little more space is required, which gives inspiration to the entire word, and before a parshiya, an even bigger space is required, so that from that inspiration from the hidden world, the next parshiya will be revealed.

The Spaces in Songs

There is another type of writing in the Torah that has large spaces between the words – the writing of songs. There are two types of songs. In Shirat ha-Yam, the writing is ‘ari’ach al’gabay levaina’ (‘brickwork’ pattern), in other words, in each line the order of the writing and the spaces is different, so that under each writing there is a space, and under each space, there is writing. The second type of song is like in the song of Ha’azinu, a two-column form with extra spaces, where the writing is on both sides of the line, and the space is in the middle.

Once again, according to what we have learned, the space expresses the supreme inspiration that surrounds our thought from above. And since the song comes to express an extremely exalted idea, there is a need for many and systematic spaces within the writing, which express the comprehensive, higher inspiration from which the song stems. This is the reason why a song elevates a person, because within it, there are spaces from a higher illumination that “peeks” at us, through the words of the song.

Towards Tu Bishvat – Between Fruits of the Ground, and Fruits of the Tree

Pri ha-adamah (fruits of the ground) grow rapidly. Within a few months from the time of its sowing or planting, it bears fruit, and the simple power of the ground is more evident in it. In contrast, pri ha-etz (fruit of the tree) goes through a complex process: in the first years, the tree needs to grow and take shape, and afterwards, in a relatively long process, it absorbs food from the soil, digests it, and gives off its fruits. It can be said that pri adamah expresses centrality and simplicity, while pri ha-etz expresses refinement and complexity, and usually also has a deeper and richer taste.

A tree is similar to a person: both have to go through a long process until they reach maturity, but afterwards, their fruits are more refined. And just like a tree, the fruits of its first three years are prohibited from eating because of the law of orlah, so too, a man needs to learn Torah and be educated in the mitzvot before he begins to act in the world, and present his fruits to it.

From the beginning, man should have eaten only the fruits of the tree, as it is written: “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat” (Genesis 2:16). And even grain, man’s main food, grew on a tree, and according to Rabbi Yehuda, the Tree of Knowledge was wheat (Berachot 40a). In contrast, animals were supposed to eat fruits of the ground and grasses.

After the sin, man fell from his higher level, and in order to correct himself, needed the fruits of the ground – for a simpler and more basic correction. Even the grain fell from its level together with man, and became grass. Man was assigned to toil and labor in order to produce his food from the earth – to plow, sow, reap, grind, knead and bake, as written: “By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat until you return to the ground” (Genesis 3:19). Through this toil, he corrects his bad character traits, and in a long and drawn-out process, prepares himself, and the world, for redemption.

Even though the majority of man’s food now comes from fruits of the ground, fruits of the tree are still of great importance, for they elevate and improve the quality of man’s life, and connect him to a higher level. In the future, after the world is perfected, fruit of the tree will once again be man’s essential food, and he will not need to toil to sow it every year, as our Sages said: “In the future, wheat will rise up, and grow tall like a palm tree…and lest you say that if wheat will grow this tall its reaper will suffer discomfort… the Holy One, Blessed be He, will bring a wind from His treasury and blow across, and this will thereby induce the flour to fall from the stalks of wheat, and a person will go out to the field and bring back a palmful [pissat] of flour, from which he will provide his livelihood and the livelihood of the members of his household” (Ketubot 111b).

And in regards to the Land of Israel, they said: “In the future Eretz Yisrael will produce cakes [geluskaot] and fine wool clothing [meilat] that will grow from the ground” (see, Pri Tzadik Tu Bishvat 1).

We see then, there is a special quality to the fruit of the tree, and the fruit of the ground has its own importance as well, and for each one of them, a person should thank God in its special wording of the blessing. Through the blessing, the inner virtue of the fruit comes to fruition, and the holy spark in it, is revealed, and adds blessing to a person’s life.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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