Composing the song of our lives
“A masterpiece is a fusion of crescendos and decrescendos, piano and forte.”
Rabbi Dovid Samuels
“Each and every blow they received was necessary to get them to the lofty level that they had now attained. They had achieved context and clarity. They could now sing.”
“Hashem wants us to know that He won’t only split the sea for the Jews who were leaving Egypt thousands of years ago; rather He will get us through every single obstacle that comes our way.”
The grand finale of our exodus from Egypt was the miraculous splitting of the sea. At that moment, something completely unique happened. Of course, human eyes had never seen such an event before. But the supernatural event that the Jews witnessed on that day wasn’t the only new experience. Our Sages teach us that until the moment that the Jewish people all broke out in song at the edge of the sea, no one had previously sung a song to Hashem. There is a first time for everything, and on the seventh day of our leaving the servitude of Egypt, a song to Hashem was heard for the first time.
But didn’t Leah sing to Hashem when she gave birth to her son, Yehuda, when she said, “This time I give thanks to Hashem”? It’s true, thanks were given to Hashem before the splitting of the sea, but there is a big difference between giving thanks, and singing a song. And this difference is so pivotal that we all had to experience nationally what it felt like to sing to Hashem, so that we could continue to sing throughout history, to this day. So, what is so special about singing to Hashem?
The Arugas HaBosem provides us with a beautiful and relevant explanation of what it means to relate to Hashem through song. He teaches us that a song is made up of many different notes. For the song to flow, each note needs its place, pitch, and length. Each note is varied, for if one note is repeated too often, or if it lasts too long, the song ends. Just as the sound of a flatline symbolises death, so too a song dies when the notes lack variety. There can also be songs that flow gently and steadily, but a masterpiece is a fusion of ups and downs – crescendos and decrescendos, soft and loud – piano and forte. The more instruments you add, the more chance of creating chaos; but also a greater chance of creating a symphony.
When a person looks at his life, he can see random events. There were ups, and there were downs. At times things were tranquil, even happy, but there were times when things got difficult. The commotion of life became deafening and too much to bear. Life was unpredictable, and sometimes it felt like he was just a victim of random circumstance. This is, until he joins all of those “random” notes together. He needs to learn from the Conductor in Heaven and compose his own concerto. Thanking Hashem for something is possible even if one views that event in a vacuum, but singing a song to Hashem means taking note of every note, studying it’s length, pitch, placement, and how it connects to the note that follows it, and the next note, and the next. When a person can contextualise the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the seemingly random events, and realise that they were all composed with perfect precision to create a masterpiece, then he can sing to Hashem.
We are taught that when the Jews sang the song of the sea, it was done with pure joy. The Mishneh Berurah even writes that every day when we say the song of the sea in Shachris, we should likewise say it with joy, imagining that we were crossing the sea ourselves, and he goes on to write that whoever says it with joy will have his sins forgiven. The explanation of this joy is that generally, even if a person has been freed from a painful event, when he conjures up the memory, he will still feel the pain of that past event. Composing a song, however, is when a person acknowledges that all of the events in his life were necessary for him to be who he is right now. The relationship he is supposed to have with Hashem is not despite the troubles that he has had to overcome, but rather because of those events.
As a parent forces open the mouth of a sick and unhappy child to pour the bitter medicine down his throat, the child would be justified in feeling that his parent hates him. Afterall, why is he tormenting him when he already feels so unwell? But as he grows and his mind develops the ability to make links between events and information, he understands retroactively that it was not out of hatred that his parents forced the medicine down his throat; rather it was out of love and care. Not only that, but his knowledge of the love and care his parent have for him is made stronger by events like those. Likewise, when we were becoming a nation that would dedicate itself to Hashem for thousands of years, we needed to build the most solid foundation of Emunah – a foundation of absolute faithfulness to Hashem and to the knowledge that he loves us. For this to happen, we had to reach a point where there was nothing to rely on other than Hashem. To get there, we needed 210 years of exile in Egypt. But once we reached that point, we were ready for the most fulfilling and noble of tasks: to be Hashem’s people.
But it was only at the edge of the sea that we realised the purpose of everything we’d been through. To get to the level of absolute belief in Hashem and Moshe His servant; to the point where we could point at Hashem, so-to-speak, and proclaim together that we would serve Him in the most perfect and beautiful manner, we needed to go through an Egyptian exile. Since then, our service of Hashem has been “zecher l’ytzias Mitzrayim” – a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt. For there to be an exodus from Egypt, there had to be an exile in Egypt to begin with. And when the Jews crossed the sea, they were all shown the Egyptian that had abused and tormented them in Egypt. Why? Because they reached a level of realisation how each and every blow they received was necessary to get them to the lofty level that they had now attained. They had achieved context and clarity. They could now sing.
The song of the sea is also teaching us that we need to learn how to sing. Learning to do anything takes practice, and we have a responsibility to start practicing contextualising the events in our lives as part of a much larger and grander composition. If we learn to view the small crescendos as “gam zu letova” – this is also for the good – then we will be better equipped to manage the bigger crescendos in our lives. At first the tune might be stilted and slurred, but after a while we will be able to handle the high notes and the low notes with finesse. And this is why, as the Sar Sholom of Belz explains, Hashem split every single body of water in the world when He split the sea. Because every Jew will be confronted with his “sea” that he needs to cross, and Hashem wants us to know that He won’t only split the sea for the Jews who were leaving Egypt thousands of years ago; rather He will get us through every single obstacle that comes our way.
This outlook is so vital in our lives, and it is possibly for this reason that it is most noticeable at the birth of a baby…at the beginning of life. As the contractions start, we begin to time their frequency. In order to do this, we have to take note of each contraction in the context of the one before it and the one after it. If we miss one, the count is off. As the contractions get closer, the pain increases. But we don’t question the pain, because we know that it is a natural and necessary stage of preparing to give birth. We are born into the world as a result of taking note how one contraction leads into the next, like notes in a song, and how the pain is ultimately an inseparable part of the creation of a new life.
Through the hardships of Egypt, we understood how much strength we possess to dedicate to serving Hashem. Every event since then, the ups and the downs – throughout all of Jewish history – has been part of a song, and we, collectively, are singing the final few bars of this long and dramatic concerto. But our tune is only sounded correctly if it is connected to the tunes of previous generations. The continuation of the Jewish people hinges on our willingness to keep singing our song. The splitting of the sea started with a Pesach Seder a week before. Seder means order. Our salvation from our slavery is when we acknowledge that there is order in our lives, and that Hashem is the conductor. If we would, G-d forbid, stop recognising Hashem’s hand in our lives, then the song comes to an end. But, at the same time, if we continue to sing, then every bar of music that has come before us, throughout the entire history of the Jews, will culminate in the most perfect conclusion.