I once related to a friend that one of the reasons we named our daughter Shira was because she was born on “Shabbos Shira.” He jokingly replied: “Boy is she lucky that she wasn’t born on Parshas Parah!”
All joking aside, this Shabbos is unique in that that it is the only parsha named after an event in the weekly sedra. Why is that so? Furthermore, if we are already naming it after an event, wouldn’t it make more sense to call it “Shabbos Krias Yam Suf” after the main attraction of the parsha – the spectacular splitting of the sea?
First let us explain what shira is. Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt”l writes (She’arim B’Tefila, page 65) that shira is when we relate praises in a detailed manner, as opposed to zimra, where we praise in a more general way. This fits well with the words of Maharal that shira is based on the word shir, which is a circular item (see Mishnayos Shabbos 5:1). Shira occurs when we see something come to completion. At that point, all the pieces fit into place and the beginning connects with the end. When a person sees how all his questions are answered and what had appeared to be bad was really good, he becomes filled with joy. This motivates him to say shira and relate the different components of the miracle or kindness.
Shira Makes the World Go Round
But shira is not just something nice that happens from time to time. Chazal tell us (Medrash Osiyos d’Rebbe Akiva) that the world was created to say shira. Indeed, the famed Perek Shira relates how every aspect of the entire universe says shira on a daily basis. Rav Pinkus points out that saying shira is actually what makes “the world go round!” When Yehoshua wanted to halt the sun’s movement so that he could destroy the enemy before darkness settled, he called out (Yehoshua 10:12): “Shemesh b’Givon dom,” which literally means “Sun in Givon: Wait!” However, Rashi writes that “dom” can also be translated as “be silent!” That is, as the sun travels across the sky, it says shira. In order to stop it in its tracks, Yehoshua commanded it to be silent. Once it stopped saying shira, it couldn’t budge! Shira is the fuel of the Universe! Now we must understand why saying shira is so important.
Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l, the Mashgiach of Ponevitch, would say that anyone who does not know the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo is lacking the basics of Yiddishkeit. There, the Ramban clearly sets down the reason for the mitzvos and the elementary tenets of our faith. He writes: “…the Supreme G-d has no other desire in this lowly world other than that man should be aware of his Almighty that created him and thank Him. This is also the reason for davening out loud and for gathering together to daven in shul – so that there should be a place for people to thank their Creator and make this known and proclaim: We are Your creations!” And then the Ramban continues that it must be absolutely clear that there is no such thing as “that’s the way things go in the world.” Rather, everything that happens in the world is because it is what Hashem has decreed, based on our actions.
Our job in this world is to discover our Creator and make that known to the world, as Yeshaya (43:21) tells us. “Am zu yatzarti Li, tehilasi yesapeirun – I fashioned this people for Myself, that they should declare My praise!” Klal Yisroel was created so that we should relate Hashem’s greatness and praise Him constantly. Now we understand the importance of shira. When we say shira, we are proclaiming that we see, without any shadow of a doubt, that Hashem is not only the Creator, but is also still running with the world. Nothing in the world happens against His will, and He is constantly orchestrating everything to bring about our redemption. This is how we fulfill our purpose in this world.
The Happy Ending
Let us now return to Krias Yam Suf. The midrash tells us (Shemos Rabba 23:4) that until Shiras HaYam no one had ever said shira. Of course, Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov praised Hashem, but not though shira. That may be because they had not seen the completion of the circle. They had no doubt that Hashem would redeem Klal Yisroel from Mitzrayim and punish the Egyptians, but until it actually happened, shira could not be said. With Krias Yam Suf the story came to a happy ending (for Klal Yisroel, that is), and our redemption was complete. When the sea flung out the dead Egyptians, the Yidden saw how each one had gotten the exact punishment he deserved. At the same time, they had received great reward. They experienced extreme pleasure during the actual crossing, and became fabulously wealthy from the spoils strewn on the shore. But most of all, they merited an extremely high level of prophecy, where even a simple maid saw more than what the Navi Yechezkel had seen in his great vision of Hashem’s Holy Chariot. With this great revelation they saw clearly how all the pieces fit into place and spontaneously recited Shiras HaYam.
Let us return to Shabbos Shira. When Klal Yisroel said shira, they accomplished the purpose of their creation, and that requires commemoration. When is the best time to do that? The seforim tell us that when we read the Parshas Hashavua, those events occur again in some way. Therefore, on this Shabbos, it is as if Klal Yisroel is once again saying the shira. In addition, we explained previously (see “Singing with the Angels” – November 15, 2013) that Shabbos is the day when Klal Yisroel says shira instead of the angels. Meaning, Shabbos is a day when we must dedicate ourselves in a greater manner to saying shira.
Now everything is clear. The Shabbos when we read Parshas Beshalach has both aspects – our saying Shiras Hayam once again, together with the fact that it is the day we dedicate ourselves even more so to saying shira. Therefore we can suggest that this day is the most fitting one to commemorate shira.
However, on Shabbos Shira we do not merely celebrate that great accomplishment. Rather, we also receive the ability to continue doing so. By dedicating this Shabbos to shira, we come to realize the importance of saying shira, and hopefully learn to say it on a daily basis. Dovid HaMelech proclaimed (Tehillim 104:33): “Ashira l’Hashem b’chayai – I will say shira to Hashem when I am alive!” Even if we don’t always see the complete picture as our ancestors saw during Krias Yam Suf, we will find plenty of things to thank Hashem for, if we just open our eyes.
The Mishneh B’rurah writes (O.C. 51:17): “A person should say Shiras HaYam with joy and act as if he passed through the split sea today. And he who says it with joy will merit to atonement from his sins!” Let us start by saying Az Yashir this Shabbos with joy and continue to do so every day, thus meriting that great atonement!
This article is dedicated to our daughter Shira, who was born eight years ago on Shabbos Shira. It is our tefillah that she merits to continue growing in yiras shomayim and midos tovos, and bring us true yiddishe nachas.