Commentary for End of Pesach

20 Apr

On the seventh day of Passover we read the Song of the Sea, the first of the poetic, specially-formatted sections called “songs” in the Bible which record momentous Israelite victories over their foes. Rather than the standard columns of text with spacing (sometimes half a line, sometimes until the end of the line) between the paragraphs, these passages are written with spaces of set lengths coming between each phrase in a pattern. These patterns can take two forms: One has the text of each line split up into two columns with a set space in the middle of them, while the other has the text alternate lines between the first pattern and a pattern of one lone word on each side of the column with a smaller space between those words and a phrase of text set in the middle of the column.

(Tried to make an example here, but it was a pain in the butt.  Find a Chumash if you need help visualizing.

The rabbis refer to the columns as “walls” and to the phrases that make them up as “half bricks” (short phrases) and “full bricks” (longer phrases). Given the events of the story, one would assume that the Song of the Sea would be the first pattern. The imagery fits in perfectly, with what is normally one column being separated into two, creating a space in the middle, just as God did for the Israelites and the Israelites in the “space” on the scroll being surrounded by “a ‘wall’ for them, on their right and on their left” as is described in Ex. 14:22 and 28, which are the only two verses not part of the song itself which are read with the same special cantillation used for the song. Furthermore, one would think that a large, full wall of bricks would be a reminder of the bricks the Israelites were forced to make as slaves in Egypt (which we commemorate with charoset on Passover).

The Rabbis take a much different view, though. They note that the “songs” which focus on the destruction of Israel’s enemies (such as the listing of Haman’s ten sons in Esther 9:7-9 or the list of the Canaanite kings the Israelites defeat in Joshua 12:9-24) are all recorded in the first pattern. Their “walls” look like unstable towers that could be easily toppled and brought down, just as God did to the men whose names comprise the words of those weak walls.

The walls of the “songs” that focus on God’s active role in our salvation through miraculous, clearly supernatural actions like the Song of the Sea, use the second pattern, which the rabbis note looks like one strong firm wall full of bricks. If we put our faith in God, God will support us, just the bricks of this wall of the Song of the Sea support each other, and just as God supported the Israelites in their time of need.

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