Then and Now

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

לזכר נשמת טליה זהבה ע”ה בת בנימין זאב ושושנה שיחיו

At the splitting of the sea, Moshe is overwhelmed with excitement and boundless joy. Seeking to put his heartfelt emotions to words, he begins a Shirah, a song, with the word אז, then: אז ישיר — Then Moshe and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to Hashem….” 

The Midrash explains that Moshe was intending to rectify a previous misstatement, exclaiming:

“With אז I went afoul when I castigated Hashem when I stated, מאז באתי… — “From then that I came to Pharaoh… he did evil to this people”, therefore with אז I will heap praise upon Him, אז ישיר…Then Moshe… chose to sing.

Contrary to what we would assume that the phrase, Then Moshe chose to sing… is merely an introductory description of the song being expressed by Moshe and the Children of Israel — with the song beginning with the words אשירה לד’, I shall sing to Hashem — the Midrash

is teaching us that אז is an integral part of the Shirah, the praise extolled by Moshe.

Is this common word merely a catchphrase used to contrast two events, expressing his remorse, or is there something more profound intended in the use of this mysterious word?

The Midrash describes a ‘cloak of splendor’, that G-d dons that is composed of all the expressions of אז, ‘then moments’, that appear in the Torah. When His children sin, he rips them apart only to reweave it together in the days of the Mashiach.

אז is a word that simply means, then,  taking any given moment in time and making it distinct. 

A person, often because of a human’s limited scope and perception, feels frustrated in the circumstances one faces in life. If only we would be able to see with clarity the entire puzzle of life and all its opportunities for growth and connection to G-d, we would walk with a dance in our step and a song in our heart, in joy over this knowledge and privilege.

Moshe lashed out with frustration about the plight of his beloved people. Little did he realize ‘then’, that the acceleration of the labor and slavery was commuting the four-hundred-year sentence to a mere two hundred and ten years. After experiencing the revelation of Divine Providence in its full glory, only ‘then’ was Moshe able to place that previously isolated moment

into the full context of the ‘masterplan’.

The word used for song, שירה, can also refer to something ‘circular’ as in the noun שיר that is used to describe a round ring or bracelet. 

The sense of happiness that leads to a spontaneous eruption of song stems from having achieved a sense of completion and purpose. A circle always begins and concludes at the same point. One must however travel the full cycle of descent and ascent before finally arriving

Moshe took the אז, that seemingly independent annoying point in time, and placed it in its appropriate location and context in the circle of Divine Providence, provoking an enthusiastic response of elation and connection to something much greater. 

אז ישיר, Then he sang!

A follower of the saintly Divrei Chaim sought solace and advice from the Rebbe over some difficulties he was having with a competitor. 

The Rebbe asked him if he ever observed his horse when he goes to the stream to drink. He

pointed out to him that the horse first kicks and stirs up the water before he laps it up. 

This is due to the fact, the Rebbe explained, that when he naively observes his reflection in the water, he thinks it is just another horse — his competition. By agitating the water, he erroneously believes that he makes the other horse simply disappear!

Every challenge we face is ours to own up to. It is much easier to blame and seek to rid ourselves of the competition. We must first accept that what we see is none other than ourselves and our unique mission in life, with its challenges and its responsibilities. How we deal and tackle them determines whether we are heading healthily towards the starting point of the circle of life, the Almighty Himself. 

When we succeed in living this ideal, seeing the bigger picture, we merit to lead lives of joy!

Years ago, I had the privilege to attend a Siyum of the entire Mishna in commemoration of the Sheloshim for a young two-month-old child who tragically passed away suddenly. At the event, the grandmother of the infant, whose son is the father of the baby, was in attendance just a day after she herself had gotten up from Shiva for her mother — her last remaining parent.  

The irony of the moment was painful. Here was a woman who lived a full life, raising a wonderful family and meriting to have seen many great-grandchildren in her lifetime. In stark contrast was the raw memory of a young child first beginning her journey, filled with so much hope that her parents so lovingly showered her with, yet abruptly and painfully was extinguished.

Yet, it was that same great-grandmother who shortly before she died lovingly encouraged her brave grandchildren who were sitting shiva, to imagine the joy their baby was experiencing in heaven sitting on the lap of her late husband, characteristically bouncing his beautiful great-granddaughter while soothingly singing to her a loving tune.

The touching portrayal of this embrace of the glorious past and the painful present, was a Yiddeshe Bubbe’s instinctive expression of the exquisite concept of taking an ‘אז’ moment and placing it in the greater context of Hashem’s giant circle that one day will be seen in all its splendor, compelling us to burst out joyously in a song of eternity.
May we merit to contribute to this ‘cloak of splendor’, composed of the many ‘then moments’ in our life, sewing them back together with the magnificent quality of אז!

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