By Rabbi Shloimie Lindenbaum
אז ישיר משה (פרק טו פסוק א)
The famous שירה that בני ישראל sang at the ים סוף begins with the word אז- then. The מדרש notes a different usage of the same word when משה was complaining to Hashem that after he was sent to פרעה the workload became much more intense- מאז באתי אל פרעה. This complaint was considered an עבירה for משה; on his level he should have trusted that Hashem was doing it for the best of בני ישראל. The מדרש says that this similar usage is to convey that משה sinned with “אז” and now he is singing שירה with “אז”. What is the connection between these two stories? The בית הלוי gives an answer that provides us with a new perspective on the שירה. Normally when one is saved from a difficult situation, they are happy about the salvation, but would rather not have needed it in the first place. They still are sad about the original difficulty. By the ים סוף, however, בני ישראל realized that they had been fortunate enough to be used as a tool for publicizing ‘כבוד ה. There was a tremendous ‘קידוש ה in the world through their being saved from מצרים and every part of the story was necessary for it, from the bitter labor, through the splendid salvation at the ים סוף. At this point, they weren’t just rejoicing about being saved, but even about the pain and suffering in מצרים because they recognized that that was also a necessary part of the ‘כבוד ה. This is what משה was saying with אז- although I had originally complained about the terrible oppression in מצרים, now I am even singing שירה about that, because I realize that it brought about a greater קידוש ה’.
ובני ישראל בתוך הים ביבשה המים להם חומה מימינם ומשמאלם (פרק יד פסוק כב)
The תורה describes how בני ישראל walked into the sea, which then turned into dry land and the sea became walls for them on either side. A few פסוקים later there is a similar description, but this time it says that they walked on the dry land- which was the sea, and the water became walls for them. In the first פסוק it says “sea” first and in the second it says “dry land” first. Additionally, in the first פסוק it says חומה (wall) with a “ו” and in the second it says חמה without a “ו”. The ווילנא גאון explains that the תורה is referring to two different groups. Some of כלל ישראל had full אמונה and jumped into the water, which only afterwards became dry land. Others waited to see the dry land and then they entered, they had less faith in Hashem. He also uses this to explain the difference between חומה/חמה. The מדרש says that without a “ו” it can also be read with a צירי under the “ח” which means anger. Hashem saved them but with a certain amount of anger because they weren’t truly deserving of a נס. This refers to the second group who were lacking in אמונה and therefore were only saved with חמה- anger.