Parashas Beshallach

This week’s parashah recounts the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. After this wondrous deliverance, Moshe and the Jewish People sing a song of praise to Hashem. One of the lines in this song says (Shemos 15:11): “Who is like You among the gods, Hashem?” The Midrash expounds (Yalkut Shimoni I:150):
You are not like those that others call gods – which have no substance, and of whom it is written (Tehillim 115:5-7): “They have a mouth but cannot speak; they have eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear; they have a nose but cannot smell. Their hands – they cannot feel; their feet – they cannot walk. They cannot produce any sound from their throat.” But the One whose word brought the world into being is not so; rather, He said two things simultaneously in one act of speech – something no mortal man can do.
The Maggid explains this Midrash with a parable. Someone dressed up in rabbinical garb, traveled to a certain town, and presented himself as the famous Rabbi Ploni. The townspeople, for whom “Rabbi Ploni” was a well-known name, showed him great honor. Afterward, the true Rabbi Ploni got word of what happened. Although he was upset over being impersonated, still the incident gave him some satisfaction, for it was an honor to him that people were honoring someone they thought was he. Moreover, he had no quarrel with the townspeople, for the imposter looked and acted very much like him. Sometime afterward, another person came to the town also claiming to be Rabbi Ploni. This person, however, was dressed and acted like a boor. Nonetheless, the townspeople believed his claim that he was Rabbi Ploni, and honored him the same way they honored the previous imposter. Again, the true Rabbi Ploni later got word of what had happened. This time he was incensed at the townspeople: How could they have mistaken this boor for him?
The parallel is as follows. Although Hashem is displeased by idol worship, He nonetheless gets some satisfaction from it, since it reflects recognition of a power higher than man and represents an attempt to pay homage to this power. It is written (Tehillim 113:3): “From the rising of the sun until its setting, the Name of Hashem is praised.” When someone worships an idol, he is not praising Hashem directly, but he is still praising Hashem’s Name – just as, in the parable, the honor shown to the imposters reflected Rabbi Ploni’s glowing reputation. At the same time, Hashem is incensed that people could be foolish enough to mistake their idols for Him. In the passage from Tehillim that the Midrash quotes, it is not simply written “They cannot speak,” but rather it is written “They have a mouth but cannot speak” – and then, similarly, “They have eyes but cannot see,” and so on. This phrasing is not merely poetic. Rather, the psalmist is noting two distinct flaws of idols: not only they cannot speak, see, hear, or do anything, they also have physical mouths, eyes, ears, and so on – which makes them patently unlike Hashem, who has no physical form whatsoever. The difference is so stark that it is ridiculous to mistake an idol for Hashem. Thus, Moshe and the Jewish People exclaimed: “Who is like You among the gods, Hashem?” Among all those whom other call gods, there is none even remotely like Hashem.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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