“The Final Days: Expressing Gratitude”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, in his masterful work Sefer HaTodaah (The Book of Our Heritage), explains that the seventh day of Passover (as well as the eighth day outside of Israel) is not a separate holiday like Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot. Instead, the final days of Passover are simply considered the conclusion of the Passover holiday, requiring no special שֶׁהֶחֱיָנו Sheh’heh’cheh’yah’noo blessing to be recited at candle lighting or in the festival Kiddush.

On the Jewish historical calendar, the seventh day of Passover is regarded as the day that the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea took place. And yet, the Torah, in Exodus 12:16 simply states,וּבַיוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ, וּבַיוֹם הַשְׁבִיעִי מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם: כָּל מְלָאכָה לֹא יֵעָשֶׂה בָהֶם,  And on the first day shall be a holy convocation and on the seventh day shall be a holy convocation for you, no work may be done on them.

It is interesting to note that the above verse makes no reference to the Exodus from Egypt, which is mentioned in the Torah on virtually all other festivals and holidays. Similarly, there is no allusion to the great miracle of the splitting of the sea, which took place on Nissan 21, the final day of Passover.

The rabbis attribute the absence of any reference to the Exodus to the fact that Jewish holidays, in general, do not mark the defeat of Israel’s enemies, but rather celebrate Jewish salvation. Since the Al-mighty does not rejoice over the destruction of the wicked, the People of Israel must not regard the enemy’s defeat as the reason for the festive day. Indeed, the commandment in Exodus 12, to celebrate the seventh day, was given even before people knew that on that day they would be saved from the hands of the Egyptians, or that the Egyptians would drown in the sea. The Torah, it seems, purposely obscures the connection between the splitting of the sea and the holiness of the day.

Rabbi Kitov cites a most profound statement from the mystical book of the Zohar, regarding the singing of the Song of the Sea by the Israelites. Rabbi Simeon said that when the Israelites were standing by the sea singing the song, the Al-mighty appeared to them along with His heavenly hosts, in order to provide the people with an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge that it was the “King” who performed the miracles leading to the people’s salvation. In this way, the Al-mighty assured that every individual Jew would realize and know the greatness of the salvation, enabling each Israelite to behold what even the greatest of Israel’s future prophets would not be able to comprehend.

A careful review of the song that Israel sang testifies that all the Israelites were able to comprehend these most profound wisdoms, and had reached the greatest intellectual heights. If not, how was it possible that all the people of Israel sang precisely in unison, that not one of them changed the words that were sung by all the others, and that not a single person sang a note earlier or later than the others? Rather, they all sang together, in a perfectly unified group. The Heavenly Spirit that emerged from their mouths and souls, enabled the people to sing together as if their voices emanated from a single mouth. Even fetuses in the uterus of pregnant mothers sang together and beheld what the greatest prophets, like Ezekiel, could not see. In effect, all of Israel saw through a single eye.

When they finished singing, the people’s souls were inspirited with special fragrances, causing each person to desire to see even more. Because of their unquenched spiritual thirst, the people refused to move from the place. At that moment, Moses said to G-d, “Because of their great desire to see the radiance of Your face, Your children refuse to move from the sea.”

The Al-mighty responded by covering almost His entire countenance. Several times, Moses ordered the people to move, but because they could still see part of G-d’s hidden splendor, they refused to leave. Only when the people finally saw the radiance of G-d dwelling in the wilderness, did they begin to move, to pursue the presence of G-d.

Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus, in his magnificent work Tiferet Shimshon, declares that in each generation, every Jew must sing the song that Israel sang at the sea, in order to properly praise G-d for all the wondrous miracles of which they are recipients, every single moment.

Rabbi Pincus imagines what it would have been like for contemporary Jews to be among those who departed from Egypt after hundreds of years of exile and back-breaking slavery. After being redeemed by G-d with open miracles, Pharaoh chases after the people attempting to murder the infants and children. At the last moment, the sea that is blocking the escape route is split by Moses and turned into dry land. Had we been among those who walked out of the sea unscathed, we too would have sung with great fervor and enthusiasm.

But Rabbi Pincus suggests that celebrating the glorious past is not enough. Jews today need to recognize the miracles of G-d, big and small, every single day. We need to appreciate the fact that when we come home we can open a refrigerator and find it full of food, and closets that are filled with fine clothes for ourselves and our children. This, too, should be considered the equivalent of the miracle of splitting of the sea, and requires a proper response, filled with enthusiasm, bursting into song to express profound thanks to G-d.

If we are blessed with good health, says Rabbi Pincus, and with bodily functions that are properly operating, it is certainly a good reason to sing to G-d with enthusiasm. Every day, every person must recognize G-d’s constant miracles. The fact that we are able to open our eyes each morning and see once again, and be blessed with a heart that beats, is reason for us to burst out in spirited song to acknowledge and declare gratitude for the daily miracles that we receive from our Creator.

And that is why, when the song of Israel crossing the sea is recited in our daily prayers, it must be said word-for-word carefully, pleasantly and with great conscientiousness, as if we too crossed through these ancient waters.

The message of the final days of Passover is that the Song of the Sea must always be with each Jew–strong, fervent and fresh. The ancient waters that are constantly splitting before us, every moment of our lives, must be acknowledged as we call out proudly to the Al-mighty: “Who is like You, O’ L-rd among the mighty?”

May you be blessed.

Please note:  The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Thursday night, April 9th, and continue through Friday and Saturday, April 10th and 11th. For more information see NJOP’s website.

Chag Kasher V’samayach.

Wishing all our friends a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Passover.