B’tzeis Yisroel (Shenker)

March 14, 2021

A guten Chodesh to all of you! Thank you for allowing me the week off! After more than a year of weekly posts, a break was certainly in order – both for me AND for you. But let’s get right back into it, shall we? I thought it would be wise to begin the month of geulah with an idea and a song that may help us set the tone.

To this very day, we stand in awe over the wonders that preceded and accompanied Bnei Yisroel’s departure from Mitzrayim. We have previously spoken of the notion that Yetzias Mitzrayim was not merely a one-time event that occurred at some point in history. Rather, it is an eternal and ongoing process, affecting and encompassing all Yidden throughout the generations. One of the primary tasks of the Seder night is, of course, to recall, relate, and relive these spectacular acts of Hashem. And while the concept is profoundly deep, it is critical to understand that the Yom Tov for which we now prepare is as much about what happened in the times of our ancestors, as it is about what is happening for us, right now.

A basic but interesting question can be raised about the whole notion of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Almost every step they took at this critical juncture was punctuated by miraculous intervention. Of course, it was a grand and remarkable event, the marvels of which we continue to recount and regale in throughout the generations. But there seems to be room to contemplate if the whole affair was truly necessary, for, at first glance, it appears the geulah could have been dealt with in a much simpler manner. Generally speaking, we know that Hashem seeks to mitigate His departure from natural order, which He established and conducts.

The matter is particularly puzzling when we consider the overall attitude of the Egyptian populace toward Bnei Yisroel at that time. As the time of the geulah neared, the Bnei Yisroel were granted unprecedented favor in the eyes of the Mitzrim: they were able to ask for whatever riches they desired and were given two-fold their requests (Mechilta, Parshas Bo). Why, then, didn’t they simply ask for their freedom? Seemingly, this, too, would have been granted. Then they could have just walked out, without any need to resort to the complete departure of natural order!

The Nesivos Shalom, R’ Shalom Noach Berezovsky zt’l (1911-2000) derives the answer to this question by examining a kapittal Tehillim that discusses these very events – B’tzeis Yisroel MiMitzrayim. One of the most lyrical poems of unsurpassed beauty, kapittal 114 echoes the magnificent miracles of our deliverance from Mitzrayim and the crossing of the Yam Suf, and is considered one of the most significant portions in Hallel.

What is curious, however, is that the introductory verse seems out of place. The entire hymn focuses on the miraculous feats wrought by Hashem: His splitting of the Yam Suf and the Yarden, the dancing of the mountains, the extraction of water from the rock, and so forth. Why, then, does the kapittal open with the praise of Yisroel itself, relating how dear and special they are to Hashem: Hoysa Yehudah l’kodsho, Yisroel mamshilosav – Yehudah became His sanctified one, Yisroel His kingdom?

What this signifies, explains the Nesivos Shalom, is that the remainder of the mizmor is in fact a product of the beginning. That it is precisely because Yisroel is so dear to Hashem that He performed the succeeding miracles on their behalf. Although Bnei Yisroel could have been removed from Mitzrayim by much more “natural” and less spectacular means, Hashem specifically chose the route of performing wonders on their behalf. In doing so, He sought to deliver a most powerful message – a message to the world as a whole as well as to each one of us.

By taking us out in the way that He did, Hashem was clearly demonstrating that His beloved people are, and will always be under His direct and focused care. For them, the normal rules and barriers of teva do not apply; Yisroel’s existence takes place on a plane that transcends teva. It is because they are kadsho (His sanctified) and mamshilosav (His kingdom) that the whole series of wonders took place. In this way, Yetzias Mitzrayim revealed the true essence of Klal Yisroel – we are, and always have been, a supernatural nation.

In the spring of 1964, while sightseeing in a glass-bottom boat through the waters of the Yam Suf, amidst the scenic beauty of the colorful Sinai Desert, R’ Ben Zion Shenker, z’l was inspired to compose this niggun. It was subsequently recorded on the 1965 album entitled Joy of the Festivals. The musical elements of this classic tune reaffirm and garnish the lyrical beauty of the poem. Before leaving Eretz Yisroel, a farewell concert was given in honor of R’ Ben Zion at the Yeshurun Synagogue in Tel Aviv. It was there that R’ Shenker introduced this melody to the public. The reaction was so enthusiastic that he was asked to repeat the tune a number of times before leaving. It is no wonder that it remains one of our most cherished niggunim until today.

Wishing everyone a supernatural Chodesh Nissan!

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