The Pesach Seder is less than a week away, and I am so much looking forward to celebrating this year with my two daughters. Last year, my girls were with their father for the chag, so this year is a real treat. My daughters love to share each and every d’var Torah they learned in school, and it is pure nachas and joy.
Although the Seder, and Pesach in general, has a defined structure (I was amazed last Pesach sitting at my friend’s parent’s Seder, how similar it was to my parents’ Seder, despite our families’ hashkafic differences!), every family still has its own unique traditions. Some decorate their table to look like the sea splitting and have props for the makos; others play trivia games to get the kids involved.
One tradition that my father has is that he purchases a new Haggadah every year, and he has amassed quite the collection. Each year, the Seders have a slightly different feel and theme, depending on whose Haggadah he is using. I adopted his minhag and purchase a new Haggadah each year as well, but I have one primary Haggadah. It is called “Haggadah Sheli.” It is paperback, it is not very fancy, and it has a lot of blank space! Since my year in seminary (more than a few years ago), I selectively add a few new divrei Torah each year to my collection of favorites. One section that has remained blank all these years – but is blank no longer – is the section at the end of the first part of Hallel, when the Haggadah states: “v’nomar l’fanav shirah chadashah Hallelukah,” translated as, “let us say a new song before him, Hallelukah.” There are many famous songs from Tanach, but the song recited as we were leaving Mitzrayim is notorious; everyone participated: men, women with their tambourines, and children, as well. It was a universal experience shared by all; according to the Gemara, fetuses in their mothers’ wombs also recited the song at the Red Sea.
In our daily morning prayer, we recite Shiras HaYam from Sefer Sh’mos 15:1, or “Az Yashir Moshe,” which commemorates the redemption as we were taken out of Egypt. This is not the first time that the word “Az” appears in the story of the Exodus. In Sh’mos 5:23, the same word appears, in a conversation between Moshe and G-d. After requesting from Pharaoh that B’nei Yisrael be permitted to go out into the desert to serve G-d, Pharaoh punishes B’nei Yisrael by taking away their straw to make bricks, but still requires the same amount of work be done. The pasuk states: “u’mei’az basi el Par’oh…” “Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people.”
In case we didn’t see the connection between our pain and suffering and the redemption that followed, with just two letters, alef and zayin, the connection is made. The Shirah that we sang on the sea is complete. It did not begin when we left Mitzrayim; the Shirah began much earlier, during the time of our greatest suffering and pain.
Shirah captures the totality of the experience. When we sing to G-d, we understand that we cannot sing praise without encompassing the pain and suffering that preceded it. The Shirah itself is the realization that G’ulah, or redemption, is not something that stands on its own. It is a direct outcome of the galus that came before it. There can be no G’ulah without galus.
Singing Shirah allows us to express in a most deep way, from the soul, our recognition of the present G’ulah, that also acknowledges that the anxiety, pain, and suffering that we have experienced leading up to the redemption, our own personal galus, was also part of G-d’s Master Plan.
As we progress through the holiday, there will be much singing and rejoicing. Each time we praise G-d through song and prayer, whether on Pesach, or throughout the year, what a beautiful reminder from our first song we sang as a nation in the very moment of our redemption, that everything Hashem does is for us, is His expression of love for us, and is part of His plan for us.
I wish you a Chag Kasher V’Samei’ach.
*Special thanks to Rachel Margolies for sharing this d’var Torah at a recent Leil Iyun in Los Angeles.