On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate and celebrate k’riyat Yam Suf by reading the story from Parshat Beshalach (Megillah 30b). What aspect of k’riyat Yam Suf are we celebrating?
The seventh day parallels the first day of Pesach, with one commemorating a miraculous part of the Exodus: the first day, the beginning, and the seventh, the completion.
K’riyat Yam Suf completed two aspects of the Exodus. The first aspect was the geula (redemption) itself. The Yerushalmi (Pesachim 71:1) explains that Bnei Yisrael did not sing shira when they first left Mitzrayim, because it was only the beginning of the geula. The Ohr HaChaim (Shemot 12:15) explains that the geula was only completed with k’riyat Yam Suf. The centrality of k’riyat Yam Suf to geula is evident from the text of the geula beracha recited before Shemonah Esreh. The beracha mentions yetziat Mitzraim only briefly, focusing instead on k’riyat yam suf.
K’riyat Yam Suf also completed the process of cherut (freedom). The Torah twice mentions that the name of the place near the sea where the Jews encamped was Pi Hachirot, the “mouth of freedom (Shemot 14:2, 14:9).” Rashi (14:2) quotes a Mechilta (Beshalach Parsha 1) that explains the significance of this with the fact that the Jews became truly free only at and through k’riyat Yam Suf. This seems to be the explanation of the Gemara (Megillah 14a), which learns from yetziat Mitzrayim that we are meant to sing shira when we transition from slavery to freedom. Rashi explains that the shira the Gemara refers to is the one the Jews sang at Yam Suf. Though the Jews left Mitzraim a week before, they only achieved true freedom through k’riyat Yam Suf, and so that is where they sang.
Why were these processes completed only at the Yam Suf and not through the initial Exodus? The Mefarshim (Rabbeinu Bechaye (Shemot 6:7), Seforno (Shemot 14:30), and Or Hachayim (Shemot 14:30) explain that even after the people left Mitzraim, the Jews continued to see the Egyptians as their owners and taskmasters. Only with the death of their masters at Yam Suf did the Jews feel completly redeemed and truly free.
Shira and Simcha
Rashi (Megillah 31a) understood the significance of the seventh day differently. He explains that our commemoration and celebration are due not to the miracle but rather to the people’s response – their singing of shira. The S’forno (Vayikra 23:36 and Devarim 16:8) uses this idea to explain the Torah’s usage of the term atzeret, gathering (Devarim 16:8), to describe the yom tov status of the seventh day of Pesach. The seventh day celebrates the fact that the Jewish people gathered together to sing shira. The Torah emphasizes this point because, had they not gathered to sing shira, the seventh day would not be a yom tov. The miracle of kriyat Yam Suf alone would not have been enough basis for a yom tov. It is the singing of shira that gives us reason to celebrate.
This explains the opinion quoted by the Maharil (Seder Tefillot Shel Pesach), who believed that instead of calling the seventh day zman cheruteinu (in our tefillot), we should describe it as zman simchateinu, “the time of our joy.” This description is surprising. Pesach is the only holiday regarding which the Torah does not mention simcha. Why does the Maharil see the seventh day’s central characteristic as simcha?
The answer is that shira is rooted in feelings of simcha. The Gemara (Arachin 11a) links the Levi’im’s shira in the Mikdash to a pasuk that mentions the importance of serving Hashem with simcha and goodness of heart. The Gemara explains that shira is the expression of serving Hashem with simcha. Rashi there adds that we only sing when we are happy and in good spirits. The Tzon Kodshim commentary elaborates that song is how we express happiness. Though many things generate happiness, song is the singular way we express happiness.
The connection between shira and simcha is emphasized by the way the geula bracha (before Shemoneh Esreh) describes the shira at Yam Suf: “Moshe and Bnei Yisrael all proclaimed shira to you b’simcha rabba.” The great simcha is a critical part of shira.
K’riyat Yam Suf was more than just another miracle performed on our behalf. It was the moment when we finally felt relieved enough and happy enough to express our thanks to Hashem in song. According to Rashi, the song is what we commemorate on the seventh day. According to the Maharil, we celebrate the simcha.
Let’s use the seventh day of Pesach to appreciate, celebrate, and sing about the gift of true freedom Hashem gave us – b’yamim haheim and b’zman hazeh!
Transcribed by Adina Lev