February 3, 2007
Both this week\’s Torah and haftarah readings are about song. The Torah reading recounts the song that the children of Israel sang at the parting of the sea on their way to redemption: \”Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord.\” (Exodus 15:1) Deborah\’s song celebrates the victory over the Canaanite enemies: \”On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang.\” (Judges 5:1)
Where there is room for comparison there is also room for contrast, both trivial and substantial. Rabbi Meir Simcha Hacohen from Dvinsk, one of the great Lithuanian sages of the early 20th century, in his Humash commentary \”Meshekh Hochmah\” (Parshat Beshallach, Cooperman ed. p. 135), took note of what might seem like an inconsequential stylistic difference in the superscript of these songs and builds it into a substantial homiletic message. He notes that the introduction to Deborah\’s song, unlike Moses\’ song, is not directly addressed to God. This disparity prompts him to attempt to justify the difference.
Two things \”bother\” him about Deborah\’s song. The first, he finds in an obscure verse in Deborah\’s song: \”Curse Meroz\” (Verse 23)* and in its explication in the Talmud. This verse recounts that Barak cursed a man, city or star named Meroz for some indiscretion. (See Moed Katan 16a) Rabbi Meir Simcha contends that God did not want His name associated with a song which celebrates a curse. This he bases on the following midrash: \”And God called the light day\”\’ (Genesis 1:5) Said Rabbi Elazar: \”The Holy One Blessed Be He never wants to associate His name with evil, rather only with good. [How do we know? For it is written:] \’And God the light day.\’ The verse does not continue: \’And to the darkness God call night.\’ Instead the verse says \’And to the darkness night\’.\” [The second clause does not include God\’s name.] (Genesis Rabbah 3:6, Theodore-Albeck ed. p.23)
His other contention is also based on a passage from the Talmud. In that passage, Rav finds elements of excessive pride in Deborah\’s song: \”Rav Yehudah said in Rav\’s name: \’if he is a sage, his wisdom departs from him; if he is a prophet, his prophecy departs from him. If he is a sage his wisdom departs from him, we learn from Hillel. For he said: \’He began rebuking them with words,\’ and then he said: \’I have heard this halahka and I have forgotten it.\’ If he is a prophet, his prophecy departs from him: [we learn this from Deborah. As it is written: \’the rulers ceased in Israel, they ceased until I arose, Deborah, I arose a mother in Israel\’ (Verse 7) [At which point prophecy left her.] And it is written afterwards, \’Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song\’. (Verse 12) (Pesachim 66b)
Rabbi Meir Simcha, then has found a way to turn Deborah\’s song into a morality lesson, teaching both to take special care in the words we use in dealing with others and the way we deport ourselves for everything we do is a reflection of our relationship with God.
*See my drasha for Beshalach 5764 which deals with this verse in depth.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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