Monday, March 15, 2010

The Whole Story of Redemption

תהילים פרק קיד

א בְּצֵאת יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם; בֵּית יַעֲקֹב, מֵעַם לֹעֵז.
ב הָיְתָה יְהוּדָה לְקָדְשׁוֹ; יִשְׂרָאֵל, מַמְשְׁלוֹתָיו.
ג הַיָּם רָאָה, וַיָּנֹס; הַיַּרְדֵּן, יִסֹּב לְאָחוֹר.
ד הֶהָרִים, רָקְדוּ כְאֵילִים; גְּבָעוֹת, כִּבְנֵי-צֹאן.
ה מַה-לְּךָ הַיָּם, כִּי תָנוּס; הַיַּרְדֵּן, תִּסֹּב לְאָחוֹר.
ו הֶהָרִים, תִּרְקְדוּ כְאֵילִים; גְּבָעוֹת, כִּבְנֵי-צֹאן.
ז מִלִּפְנֵי אָדוֹן, חוּלִי אָרֶץ; מִלִּפְנֵי, אֱלוֹהַּ יַעֲקֹב.
ח הַהֹפְכִי הַצּוּר אֲגַם-מָיִם; חַלָּמִישׁ, לְמַעְיְנוֹ-מָיִם.

"Betzeit Yisrael Mi'mitzrayim"

This well-known psalm, recited or sung during every festival and particularly during Passover, tells a story of the Passover experience----"when Israel emerged from Egypt"... It describes the euphoria and the supernatural nature of this event such that not only human beings rejoiced but even the inanimate mountains, seas and rocks performed miraculous activities in acknowledging and enabling the children of Israel to triumphantly depart.

The poem is presented in parallel structure as every verset finds an exact parallel in its sister verset. (Yisrael and bet yaakov; Mitzrayim and am loez; Yehuda and Yisrael; harim and gevaot; eilim and benei tzion; etc,). A perfect parallelism creates a feeling of orderliness and completion. Except for verses 3 and 5!

Verses 3 and again 5 describe the sea splitting or fleeing in awe of God and Israel. The notion of the sea fleeing הים ראה וינס is very powerful in that it personifies the great sea and turns it into yet another part of creation expressing the fear and awe of the remarkable experience of yetziat mitzrayim. The Torah makes no mention of the sea fleeing at Moshe's command, yet the depiction creates a dramatic feeling in our minds and raises our excitement.

While a parallel verset usually restates, enhances, and/or elucidates the former one as we witness in the rest of the psalm, two verses which describe the experience of the sea are the exception-- they refer to two totally different events, occurring 40 years apart!

הים ראה וינס--the sea sees and flees
הירדן תסב לאחור--the Jordan turned backwards

While the Torah makes no reference to the sea 'fleeing' in Exodus, it does present the miracle in Joshua (3:16) closer to the psalmist's description, "the waters which came down from above stood, and rose up in one heap". Why would the author of the psalm include the second miracle of the Jordan together with the splitting of the sea forty years earlier?

The song we sing on Passover might be engaging us to recognize the entirety of the Passover story. What is the mitzvah of Passover? "mitzvat sippur yetziat Mitzrayim". Rav and Shmuel in Masechet Pesachim argue as to when this story begins (Idol worshiping, slavery respectively) but they leave us wondering as to when the story ends!

Is it the moment of the splitting of the sea, which incidentally is considered as the seventh day of Passover?
Is it at Mount Sinai which ends a cycle of the Omer joining the two holidays?
Perhaps there is another 'end of the story', one which fulfills the true divine mission originally intended:

Genesis 15:13
"And He said unto Abram: 'Know of a surety that your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;...and afterward shall they come out with great substance... And in the fourth generation they shall come back hither"

Exodus 3:8
"And I shall come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good, expansive land, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite"

Pesach Mitzrayim opens a circle filled with all the ingredients of nation building and covenant fulfilling. But when does the circle close? From the prophecy to Abraham it is clear that only with the return to the land promised to the forefathers do we come full circle. From Abraham to Moshe and from Moshe to Joshua the same message rings true--Eretz Yisrael represents the seed of redemption as well as the majestic forest of fruition.

The first miracle took place for the eyes of the generation who left Egypt while the second miracle patterned exactly after the first takes place for the eyes of the second generation of those entering Israel, God's complete two-part mission told to Moshe.

In fact, when we consider the process of the exodus from Egypt it mirrors the process of entering Israel.

Consider the steps in Exodus:
Shal ne'alecha--Exodus,3:5 (personal revelation with God (in Israel acc. to Midrash),
Egypt and Exodus,
Pesach (no uncircumcised may partake),
Splitting of the sea.
Matan Torah
Entering the land

Now consider the process of entering into Israel in Joshua:
Entering the land
Splitting of the sea (הים תסב לאחור)
Matan Torah
Brit Milah
Shal ne'alecha Joshua, 5:15 (personal revelation with God in Israel)

What begins with Abraham's calling to Eretz Yisrael continues with Moshe's only experience on the land where the revelation takes place, and concludes with Joshua's ultimate return to the land with the children of Israel.

The psalmist in veering from orderly parallelism and structure unlocks a key towards the whole picture of redemption. He wants to reinforce the notion that without Joshua's conquest of Canaan the Passover story is not complete, but with the final miracle of the Jordan the story comes to a close and the Holiday is truly complete.

הים ראה וינס--the sea sees and flees
הירדן תסב לאחור--the Jordan turned backwards

Chag Sameach