Parashas Beshallach

This week’s parashah describes the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and records the song that the Jewish People sang afterward to praise Hashem for this miraculous salvation. They proclaimed (Shemos 15:2): “This is my God, and I will glorify Him.” Expounding on this statement, the Gemara says (Shabbos 133b): “‘And I will glorify Him (ואנוהו)’ – be like Him. Just as He is gracious and compassionate, so you, too, be gracious and compassionate.” Rashi explains: “We interpret ואנוהו as אני והוא – I and He. I will make myself like Him, clinging to His ways.” This teaching calls for examination, for the way the Sages interpret the word ואנוהו seems far removed from its plain meaning. In Ohel Yaakov, parashas Vayishlach, the Maggid presents an explanation.
Dovid HaMelech charges his son Shlomo (Divrei HaYamim Alef 28:9): “Know the God of your father.” Our early traditional sources explain that Dovid is speaking of intellectual knowledge of God, of contemplation so as to comprehend and recognize Hashem’s Divine nature and His oneness. Now, it is impossible for any man to grasp Hashem’s Divine nature in its fundamental essence, for it is deeper than anything man can conceive. Rather, the only sense in which we can grasp Hashem’s Divine nature is in terms of His actions and attributes, as He has revealed them to us. As Shir HaYichud (Fifth Day) puts it: “We neither found Him nor knew Him; only through His deeds did we perceive Him.” In truth, all the descriptive terms that the prophets uses in conjunction with Hashem are merely borrowed terms – analogies to the attributes displayed by His creations. Rambam brings out this point in Moreh Nevuchim (part 1, ch. 53 and elsewhere). R. Yehudah HaLevi, in the beginning of part 2 of the Kuzari, also discusses the matter. He says, for example, that we call Hashem “compassionate” to refer His helping the needy in a manner analogous to how we help a needy person when we are stirred by our feelings of compassion. This way of understanding Hashem is limited, but it is the only way we have. When the Torah tells us to “cling to Him” (Devarim 10:20): it is telling us to cling to His ways. It is thus our duty, as Jews, to emulate His ways in every respect the Tanach describes. By emulating Hashem’s ways, we absorb them – to the extent possible – into our souls, and thus become able to grasp their nature. This is the way we gain an understanding of Hashem.
The point can be brought out further with an analogy. Suppose we meet a blind person who never in his life has had the power of sight. If we tell him that light is good, he will have no idea what we are talking about. Similarly, if he asks someone to describe his coat and the person replies by saying what color it is – black, or red, or green, or whatever – he will have no better grasp of what the coat is like; since he has never seen any colors, he cannot project an image of the color into his mind. Understanding Hashem poses a similar problem. Hashem has commanded us Jews to instill within our hearts a firm awareness of His oneness, His Divine nature, and His lofty and glorious traits. But there is no way for us to gain such awareness, if we have no grasp of the nature and value of Hashem’s traits. We therefore must adopt with the utmost resoluteness all the traits that the Tanach ascribes to Hashem, so that we can understand their nature, the effects they produce, their uprightness, and their pleasantness. And then, when we recite Hashem’s praises using the expressions the Tanach sets forth, it will be easy for us to bring into our minds through these praises a conceptualization of Hashem’s oneness and His Divine power as we have come to know them. We can now understand well the Gemara we quoted above: “‘And I will glorify Him’ – be like Him. Just as He is gracious and compassionate, so you, too, be gracious and compassionate.” We seek to glorify Hashem with all appropriate forms of praise. But how can we glorify Him truly? Our Sages give us the answer: We must emulate His ways. Once we have internalized His ways to the fullest extent possible, we will gain an understanding and appreciation of them, and we will then be fit to give Him true praise.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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