אָז יָשִׁיר־מֹשֶׁה וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לַיהֹוָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֵאמֹר
אָשִׁירָה לַיהֹוָה כִּי־גָאֹה גָּאָה
סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם׃
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to יהוה. They said:
I will sing to יהוה, for He has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea. (Exodus 15:1)
This week we turn to a section of preserved archaic ancient Hebrew poetry which scholars deem to be much older than the rest of the book of Exodus. The poem, sung with a unique and festive melody, celebrates the destruction of the Egyptian army during the crossing through the Sea of Reeds and looks forward to the future conquest of Canaan. The opening lines praise יהוה not only for the miracle of parting the sea but primarily for taking out the Egyptian army, destroying it completely. As we see in Exodus 14:25 ([God] locked the wheels of their chariots so that they moved forward with difficulty. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for יהוה is fighting for them against Egypt.), God could have slowed the Egyptian army until the Israelites were safely on the other side of the sea and not killed them all. Yet, God seems to have gone to great lengths to wipe them out. There are conflicting opinions on whether or not to celebrate the death of one’s enemy, and I would lean towards the notion that we Jews don’t throw parties when our enemies are vanquished. Our celebrations (think Hanukkah and Purim) are about our survival, and we don’t cheer or rejoice when Haman was hanged or when Dresden was bombed. Some may attribute this to the famous Talmudic midrash:
“דאמר רבי שמואל בר נחמן אמר רבי יונתן: מאי דכתיב ‘ולא קרב זה אל זה כל הלילה’ (ספר שמות, פרק י”ד, פסוק כ’)? באותה שעה בקשו מלאכי השרת לומר שירה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא. אמר להן הקדוש ברוך הוא: מעשה ידי טובעין בים ואתם אומרים שירה לפני”.
“As Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥman says that Rabbi Yonatan says: What is the meaning of that which is written in the passage describing the splitting of the Red Sea: “And the one came not near the other all the night” (Exodus 14:20)? At that time the ministering angels desired to recite a song before the Holy One, Blessed be He. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: My handiwork, (i.e., the Egyptians) are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before Me?”
(Talmud Sanhedrin 39b)
Exactly one week ago, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel suffered a horrific terrorist attack as 7 Jews were gunned down outside of a Jerusalem synagogue as Shabbat began. What added insult to injury was the fact that we saw footage of Palestinians singing, dancing, and handing out sweets as they celebrated the murder of Jews and the martyrdom of the terrorist. A sickening and smaller celebration took place in the heart of Jerusalem on Saturday night. In a video posted on social media, a group of young Palestinian men in an elevator at the Shaarei Zedek hospital express joy and humiliated an Orthodox Jewish man who had come to the hospital to visit his brother, one of those injured in the attack.
Of course, far from all Palestinians were celebrating, including a Palestinian paramedic who served as a first responder on the scene. However, this is exactly what we Jews are commanded not to do. After the Egyptian army drowned thereby saving the children of Israel, God (by way of rabbinic midrash) commands us not to rejoice.
Why am I emphasizing this story?
For two reasons.
- Let this be a reminder for us to never act in that way. Yes, celebrate freedom. No, do not celebrate the suffering of even our worst enemies.
- Israel still faces serious threats from its neighbors – both regionally and locally – and we need to be outspoken about Israel’s security regardless of how we feel about any given personality or policy.