Joy and Song: Passover Day 7

 Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation B’nai Israel

April 3, 2021

Passover Day 7

How often do we unconditionally celebrate?  When do we let out a huge sigh of relief and then really kick off our shoes.  In our Torah reading and haftorah today, we have two songs of triumph.  After crossing the sea, we sing Az Yashir Moshe, which also includes Miriam’s song.

וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲח֧וֹת אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת׃ Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. 

וַתַּ֥עַן לָהֶ֖ם מִרְיָ֑ם שִׁ֤ירוּ לַֽהשם כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה ס֥וּס וְרֹכְב֖וֹ רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם׃ (ס) And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.

In our haftorah, it is David who sings.  

וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר דָּוִד֙ לַֽהשם אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַשִּׁירָ֣ה הַזֹּ֑את בְּיוֹם֩ הִצִּ֨יל השם אֹת֛וֹ מִכַּ֥ף כָּל־אֹיְבָ֖יו וּמִכַּ֥ף שָׁאֽוּל׃ David addressed the words of this song to the LORD, after the LORD had saved him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hands of Saul. 

וַיֹּאמַ֑ר השם סַֽלְעִ֥י וּמְצֻדָתִ֖י וּמְפַלְטִי־לִֽי׃ He said: O LORD, my crag, my fastness, my deliverer! 

אֱלֹהֵ֥י צוּרִ֖י אֶחֱסֶה־בּ֑וֹ מָגִנִּ֞י וְקֶ֣רֶן יִשְׁעִ֗י מִשְׂגַּבִּי֙ וּמְנוּסִ֔י מֹשִׁעִ֕י מֵחָמָ֖ס תֹּשִׁעֵֽנִי׃ O God, the rock wherein I take shelter: My shield, my mighty champion, my fortress and refuge! My savior, You who rescue me from violence! 

מְהֻלָּ֖ל אֶקְרָ֣א השם וּמֵאֹיְבַ֖י אִוָּשֵֽׁעַ׃ All praise! I called on the LORD, And I was delivered from my enemies.

What would it take for US to find that great relief?  Like many of you, I have found this year exhausting.  Our lives changed in so many ways--some positive and some negative.  In Israel and the United States, as more people are vaccinated, it SEEMS like the pandemic is slowly receding--although recent numbers remain quite concerning.  When will we stop and celebrate?

What will normal look like for us?  Will we simply go back to the way we did things before or will we be forever changed?

In true rabbinic fashion, I think the answer is simply yes.  In time, much will resume in the way it had, and also we have learned so much.  What I look forward to more than anything else is the return of unbridled joy, unadulterated, unchallenged.  We need more music in our lives.  We need more celebrations!

Looking at our Torah and Haftorah for today, we see the overwhelming relief, the overwhelming joy felt by the entire people Israel and by Melech David, respectively.  They had survived the unthinkable.  All the odds were against them, and yet they were still there.  So have we.

As a people, our Haggadah reminded us that we violence and fear have never been far away from our people, yet over and over again, we have continued, we have celebrated.  I think of the DP camps after the Second World War.  I found the following from the website of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial:

Athens, Greece, Postwar, Wedding of nine couples who survived the Holocaust Yad Vashem Photo Archives 6093

"Much attention was paid to weddings, and very often they were the main agenda in the social life of the camp. During the first year after liberation there were numerous weddings, not uncommonly six or more in a single day, even fifty in a week. During 1946 there were 1,070 weddings. But statistics, as impressive as they may appear, do not convey the atmosphere surrounding the weddings. To get married had many bright, as well as sad, aspects, reflecting the essence of being a survivor in a DP camp. First there was a question of halakah (Jewish law). Most couples decided to be married in a Jewish wedding ceremony. It was not just a question of being religious. Even for the secular, it meant forming a new link with the past, overcoming the disaster and continuing the family chain, being Jewish and keeping and manifesting the Jewish tradition. […] The invitations and the descriptions of individual weddings often, however, reflect the dark side of the event. Many invitations are signed by the bride and bridegroom, with no father or mother inviting guests to their children’s wedding. Sometimes the name of a single relative – an uncle or a cousin – appears, further emphasizing the tragedy behind the scenes. The ceremony itself was painful. The mention of loved ones who were absent sadly demonstrated the dark holes in the circle of family and friends." 

After one of the darkest moments of our history, we found joy.  It was not always unbridled or unrestricted, but it was overwhelming.  Babies were born.  Families born anew.  New lives begun.  Our Torah teaches us that this is possible.

Immediately following the song of the sea in the Torah, they look for water and find none.  The overwhelming joy stops and reality sets in again.  The highs and lows are moments apart.  That is life!  We cannot have the joy without the sorrow.  We cannot find the blessings without living through the curses.  If this year has taught us anything, let it be the blessing of finding joy.

As nursing homes across the country have opened up to visitors again, one of the most heartwarming sights I have seen are family reunions.  Seeing children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren hugging their loved ones (and posting pictures or video online) brings tears of joy to my eyes.  In the days and weeks to come, let us continue to find that joy.  

Today we also read from Shir HaShirim. Without going into too much detail, it is a love story.  It is not an easy one, but it is beautiful.  The two lovers go through great lengths to find stolen moments with one another.  The rabbinic commentators and Talmud connect this book with the relationship of God and the People Israel.  We may feel, at times, that the Holy One is hiding Their presence, yet in the moments of joy, we can feel that connection in powerful ways.  

Standing before you, my prayer is that we continue to search and find joy, blessing, and hope.  As we say in Hallel, זֶה־הַ֭יּוֹם עָשָׂ֣ה ה’ נָגִ֖ילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָ֣ה בֽוֹ (Zeh hayom asah Adonai, nagila v’nismicha vo), “This is the day God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalms 118:24).”