Parashas Beshallach

This week’s parashah recounts the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the song the Jewish People sang afterward to praise Hashem for this miraculous deliverance. The Jewish People declared (Shemos 15:2): “Y-h is my might and my praise, and He was unto me as a salvation (ויהי לי לישועה).” The Midrash remarks (Shemos Rabbah 23:15): “It is not written יהי לי but rather ויהי לי – He was unto me and He will be unto me.” In Ohel Yaakov, Bereishis, parashas Vayechi, the Maggid offers an interpretation of this Midrash. He starts with another Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 2:1):
He made His ways known to Moshe, His actions (עלילותיו) to the Children of Yisrael (Tehillim 103:7). A mortal’s traits and actions are crooked, as it is written (Devarim 22:13), “and he makes a wanton accusation (עלילות דברים) against her [his wife].” But Hashem’s traits and actions are compassionate, as it is written (Tehillim 103:8): “Hashem is compassionate and gracious.” And Hashem made these ways known to Moshe at the time he asked (Shemos 33:13), “Please make known to me Your ways.” Hashem replied (ibid. 33:19): “I show grace toward him to whom I will show grace.” And thus (Tehillim 103:8), “Hashem is compassionate and gracious.”
The Maggid explains as follows. When a mortal king gets angry at one of his servants and orders that he be given a severe beating, the king’s sole intent at that moment is to cause the servant pain. If afterward the servant appeases the king, his attitude toward the servant changes: instead of being a harsh enemy toward him, he is now a gracious friend. Man’s tendency toward such abrupt shifts in attitude is what the Midrash is referring to when it says that a mortal’s actions are crooked: people are constantly changing course. But with Hashem it is different: Even when Hashem punishes a person, His intent in doing so is to benefit him. There is no change, far be it, in Hashem’s attitude toward a person from one moment to a later one. Everything that Hashem brings upon a person is an act of compassion aimed toward the person’s good. This mode of operation is what Hashem was referring to when He told Moshe that “I show grace to whom I will show grace” – everything Hashem does now, at any given moment, is an act of grace that lays the groundwork for a future show of grace.
And this is what the Midrash is pointing to when it calls attention to Moshe’s use of the phrasing ויהי לי as opposed to יהי לי . Had Moshe used the plain future tense phrasing יהי לי, he would be saying only that Hashem can be counted on to come to our aid in times of need. The implication would be that, when the occasion requires, Hashem sets aside His previous plans and launches into a course that will lead to our salvation. By using the alternate phrasing ויהי לי, with the Biblical conversive vav turning a future tense verb to past tense, Moshe is saying that the gracious course of action that we will see Hashem taking toward us in the future is precisely the course of action that Hashem had been taking toward us from the start. All along, although we do not necessarily see it, Hashem has been working toward our salvation, and, when the time comes, we will behold the salvation sprouting forth.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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