Adornment, Attachment and Abode

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

One of the most well known sections of Parshat Beshalach is the Song Moshe and Bnei Yisroel sang after having crossed the split Red Sea. In this paean of gratitude and glory to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Bnei Yisroel palpably felt and saw the vision of God before them and sing, "זה קלי ואנוהו/ This is my God and I will glorify Him, the God of my father and I will exalt Him."

We have here used the simplest and commonly accepted translation of ואנוהו. However the word has been translated according to its root, נוי, as, "...and I will beauty Him," as, "I will build Him a נוה, a home," and as a contraction of אני והוא, I and Him [together]." We will discuss each of these translations and explore how they may be related to each other. In fact, each provides some nuance into "glorifying" Hashem. Further, it was after this seminal experience at the birth of our people as a Nation that the Torah tells us " 'ויאמינו בה/and they believed/had faith in Hashem and in Moshe his servant."

On this last point, Rabbi Schwab zt”l points out that walking on dry land through the Red Sea was not a matter of faith, but a matter of factual experience, of absolute knowledge. Therefore, Rabbi Schwab zt”l explains that אמונה also means loyalty; this experience was to have an everlasting effect on Bnei Yisroel and instill in us everlasting loyalty to Hashem, to live with the reality of Hashem in our lives.

To support this point, The Tolne Rebbe notes that of all the prophets Hashem sent us, it was only Moshe Rabbenu who was able to say, " ' זה דבר ה/This is the [absolutely accurate] word of Hashem;" with absolute knowledge and clarity, not with allegories or allusions, as Hashem spoke to His other prophets. At the splitting of the Sea, Bnei Yisroel had that same clarity, a clarity implanted in our DNA for all generations that gives us the strength to hold on to our God even in times of concealment, whether personal or national. The world of faith was transformed into a deep, inner, intimate knowledge that spurs me to perform His mitzvoth in the most perfect way and encourages me to work on my middot/character to awaken that deep seated connection to Hashem. Finally, I must strive to make my home a point of connection between myself and the Ribbono shel olam, a place where He, too, will feel at home.

Let us begin with our first interpretation of beautifying Hashem. Since there is obviously no way we can beautify Hashem directly, we can only do so indirectly, as Rabbi Friedlander, the Sifsei Chaim, suggests, by beautifying the manner in which we perform His mitzvoth.

Rabbi Tatz notes that even with such absolute knowledge, we still have the free will to act in opposition to that knowledge. The emunah, the loyalty, must also be inculcated into us from a very young age, teaches Rabbi Wolbe zt”l. Rabbi Wolbe zt”l suggests that parent recite brachot our loud in the presence of their children. Since there is no other physical person in the room, the child senses the presence of an unseen Entity to Whom Mommy must be talking.

When one experiences an epiphany, one must act on it to concretize the experience, otherwise the will or the feeling and the memory will fade, writes Rabbi Tuvyah Weiss zt”l. Citing a verse in Shir Hashirim (8:4), Rabbi Weiss zt”l quotes the Ramban zt”l who suggests that when that love is awakened in us, we must make it concrete through a chayfetz, through something tangible. Rabbi Wolbe zt”l notes it was at this moment that the thought of building the Beit Hamikdosh was planted in the psyche of Bnei Yisroel and kept germinating throughout the Song with various references to the Mikdosh and the naveh. When the inspiration and the action come together, you begin to take possession of the idea. What follows is that the abstract God becomes "my God." At this point, the love is so strong, write both Rashi and Rambam, that you want others to know Him and share that love for Him.

When you love someone, you want to invest your self in all you do for him. If you buy him a gift, the gift itself must not only be perfect, but must also have a thoughtful card, and beautiful wrapping paper. When we love Hashem, the gifts we bring Him are our mitzvah performance. It is not enough to hurriedly grab any "gift" off the shelf, run to hand it to Him and hurriedly run out. You want to perform the mitzvah in the most perfect way, wrapped in thoughts of connection to Him. You want to share your life with Him. You want to build an abode as a permanent place of connection.

Even while singing this song of gratitude for the miracles Hashem bestowed upon them, Bnei Yisroel were already thinking of ways to concretize the feeling. This same idea is present when one recites birkat hagomel, the blessing after surviving a dangerous situation, writes Letitcha Elnyon. The survivor blesses Hashem Who "bestows good things to חיבים, to those are guilty and who now are indebted to Him.

Bnei Yisroel had seen multiple plagues in Egypt. What prompted them only now to sing these praises and want to build this abode for Hashem, continues Letitcha Elyon. Indeed, all the earlier miracles were necessary to redeem Bnei Yisroel and to teach them about Hashem, but at this miracle, they received additional gifts. The medrashim are replete with these signs, from marble floors instead of mud, to fruit for snacking and fountains for drinking protruding from the walls of water. These concrete gifts were evidence of Hashem's love beyond the necessity for redemption. They were the little love notes tucked into the lunch box. Just as Yosef Hatzadik recognized Hashem's love through the cargo of aromatic spices instead of foul smelling cargo while being sold and transported to Egypt, so too did Bnei Yisroel here recognize that unnecessary, additional expression of love, appreciate it, and were moved to reciprocate.

But a one time action does not create a lasting impression. Constant consistency is needed. The Beis Hamikdosh didn't last forever because Bnei Yisroel couldn't hold on to the inspiration; Yerushalayim was destroyed because, although Bnei Yisroel kept the mitzvoth, they did the bare minimum required. They did not try to make mitzvah observance pleasant, did not seek ways to grow in their connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. They never went beyond the letter of the law, writes Rabbi Kofman zt”l in Mishchat Hashemen. They did not beautify the mitzvoth by, for example, seeking a beautiful esrog and lulav.

This interpretation of ואנוהו as beautifying the mitzvah deals with the mitzvoth between man and God. But a second interpretation deals with the social mitzvoth, those between man and his fellow man. For that we translate ואנוהו as the contraction of He and I, continues Rabbi Kofman zt”l. I show my love for Him by emulating Him, by showing compassion toward others and going beyond the letter of the law in my treatment of others. Only by acting beyond the letter of the law in both spiritual and social areas can we build a Beit Hamikdosh that will last. By doing acts of kindness we are acting in the form and image of the God Who created us, writes the Oshorover Rebbe zt”l.

How often do people undermine their religious observance by spending inordinate amounts of money on the perfect esrog, or donating millions of dollars to a building fund [probably with their name on the rooms], but turn away the poor man knocking at their door or refuse to lend a hand to a neighbor? We the need to emulate Hashem in both the religious and the social aspects of life.

When interacting with your fellow, prioritize his needs and likes over your own. Pick a gift from his interests and tastes, not from yours, Pick the restaurant with the food he enjoys. Personalize the note rather than buying a generic card.

The Tallelei Chaim asks the pointed question: Am I acting simply to make the mitzvah more beautiful, or am I using the mitzvah to make myself better, to connect to Hashem more closely? Am I striving to make Hashem קלי/my God? When I follow in His ways I connect with Him, and we are one.

When I work on my middos, I am making myself more beautiful, a more worthy repository for Hashem's presence. Just as Hashem does not accept a faulty lulav and esrog, and therefore it does not bring His presence down, [or in earlier times, a blemished animal offering, CKS], so too one who does not work to perfect himself cannot be a vehicle for Hashem's presence. Our mission is to unite the upper and lower worlds by elevating ourselves and, by extension, the lower physical world as a proper home for Hashem's presence.

The Tallelei Chaim continues with a profound discussion of our theme. Each of us has his inner world that is connected to the outer world. Our first mission is to work on our middos, our inner world, to emulate Hashem, so that we become a comfortable receptacle for Hashem's presence. That is primary. With that in mind, we can work on elevating the outer world through mitzvah performance. Then, by using the materials of the outer world in mitzvah performance, we elevate these items as spiritual vehicles for Hashem's presence as well. These sparks of spirituality can be found in all levels of creation: The house of stone in Eretz Yisroel is part of the mineral world; the lulav and esrog are part of the vegetable level; the tefillin and mezuzah on parchment are part of the animal kingdom, and we as humans, must begin by attaching ourselves and our souls to the Creator.

The person with beautiful middos but a kosher, lower priced esrog is more beloved to Hashem than the inconsiderate, insensitive person with the most expensive esrog. It is the inner character of the individual that elevates the outer world around him. It was this absolute clarity that Bnei Yisroel came to at the splitting of the Sea, a clarity that spurred them not only to sing, but to dedicate themselves to retaining that connection to their Redeemer and to the Source of their very life.