Haftaras Beshallach

This week’s haftarah recounts the Jewish People’s victory over Sisera and his army in the days of the prophetess Devorah, and records the song of praise to Hashem that Devorah sang afterward (paralleling the song of praise that the Jewish People sang after the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, as recorded in this week’s Torah parashah). Devorah declares (Shoftim 5:3): “I unto Hashem, I will sing – I will sing praise to Hashem, God of Yisrael.” An explanation of this verse appears in the collection Kochav MiYaakov of the Maggid’s commentaries on the haftaros. The explanation begins with an analysis of the following passage (Tehillim 8:2-7):
Hashem, our Lord, what glory (מה אדיר) accords to Your Name through all the earth – [You], who has placed Your majesty upon the heavens. Through the mouths of babes and sucklings You have founded strength ….What is man (מה אנוש), that You are mindful of him? And the son of man, that You take note of him? Yet You have made him but a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with honor and glory. You have granted him dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put everything under his feet.
The last two verses in this passage tell us that Hashem has made the operation of all creations in the entire universe depend on the acts of man – with him they rise, and with him they fall. A prime example is the Beis HaMikdash, which is called the “gateway to heaven” (Bereishis 28:17). Through the service in the Mikdash we would draw life-imparting sustenance and blessing down from heaven to all the creations of the world. In the verse that begins “What is man,” David HaMelech marvels over Hashem’s placing man in this lofty position.
Elsewhere, as the Mahari Mintz (15th century) explains in the fifth discourse in Shneim Asar Drashos, David HaMelech again speaks of the power Hashem granted man. David declares (Tehillim 111:1-2, homiletically): “Hallelujah! I will thank Hashem with all my heart among the council of the upright and the congregation. The works of Hashem are great – available for all that they desire.” David describes the greatness of Hashem’s works in heaven and on earth, and then tells us that Hashem entrusted the universe, in all its greatness, to man. We have seen striking examples of the power that man can exercise. Moshe caused the creations of the heavens to cease their motion and remain still (Sifrei 106 on Devarim 32:1). Yehoshua caused the sun to stand still in Givon (Yehoshua 10:12). Other righteous men wrought similar wonders. Hashem put the vast universe at the righteous man’s disposal, to operate according to his wishes.
In regard to the first verse of the above passage from Tehillim 8, Zohar, Beshallach 49 notes an apparent grammatical irregularity in the phrase “who has placed Your majesty,” which in the Hebrew is written אשר תנה הודך. The verb תנה appears to be the command form of the verb לתת (to place), making the phrase sound odd. Instead, says the Zohar, David should have written either אשר נתת הודך (the straightforward way of saying “who has placed Your majesty”) or תנה הודך without the word אשר (which then would make the verse a plea: “place Your majesty”). I suggest that the use of the word תנה in this verse is along the lines of the phrase 'שָׁם יְתַנּוּ צִדְקוֹת ה in Devorah’s song (Shoftim 5:11), meaning “there they will recount Hashem’s righteous deeds” [similar to the phrase ונתנו תוקף קדושת היום (and we shall recount the holiness of the day) which opens a prominent High Holiday prayer]. We can thus read the phrase אשר תנה הודך על השמים as referring to the praises of Hashem recounted by the celestial beings: ereilim, chashmalim, serafim, and nogahim, and all the rest of the celestial hosts.
The word מה appears twice in our passage. In general, the word מה serves two roles. One of its roles is to emphasize extraordinary eminence, as in “How awesome is this place!” (Bereishis 28:17), “How precious is Your kindness, O God!” (Tehillim 36:8), “How great are your tents, O Yaakov!” (Bamidbar 24:5), and many other similar verses. The other role is just the opposite – to emphasize lack of eminence, as in “Hashem, what is man, that You recognize him?” and “What are we?” (Shemos 16:8). According to Sefer HaIkarim (Fourth Discourse, Chapter 10), both appearances of the word מה in Tehillim 8 are instances of the word serving in the second role. At the start, David declares: “Hashem, our Lord, what glory (מה אדיר) accords to Your Name through all out the earth – [You], who has placed Your majesty upon the heavens.” By analogy, consider someone who praises a great and mighty king who rules over many provinces by noting that he is king over some small village. The remark does not exalt the king at all – on the contrary, it denigrates him. Now, the Hashem’s kingdom extends over the entire universe, including the uppermost heavens. Yet He identifies Himself as the “God of Yisrael,” our Lord, sovereign over a small nation. Why does He assume this meager title? Indeed, what glory does He gain through the praises offered Him from the lowly earth? Even taking together all the praises Hashem receives from the entire human race, of what significance is all this compared with the glory Hashem gains through the celestial hosts? Nonetheless, “through the mouths of babes and sucklings You have founded strength” – Hashem values and comes to hear the praises of even the most insignificant.
We now turn to Devorah’s words: “I unto Hashem, I will sing – I will sing praise to Hashem, God of Yisrael.” On the surface, it seems that Devorah is just using repetitive language, but in fact she is conveying two distinct messages. Initially she declares: “I unto Hashem, I will sing.” In her modesty and piety, she marvels over the fact that she gained the privilege to sing praise to Hashem, the King of Kings, before whom the angels tremble with fear. And she declares that this privilege is in itself a cause for jubilant song. She then goes further: Not only is it a wonder that Hashem values the praise of a lone woman – it is also a wonder that Hashem accords eminence to the Jewish People, a group of mortals, and calls Himself “God of Yisrael.” Over this as well it is fitting to sing.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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