the ten plagues, Pharaoh finally acquiesced to the Jews leaving Egypt.
the Jews left Egypt they traveled in the desert until they hit the sea. When
they hit the sea, the Egyptians were closing in on them, and the people worried
and complained to Moshe. G-d told Moshe that the Children of Israel should not
worry, as G-d proceeded to split the sea. As the Israelites were crossing the
sea, the Egyptian army was drowning in it.
the Children of Israel reached the other side, they sang a song of gratitude
towards G-d. This song of gratitude was not only sung with thanks to G-d for
providing them with this amazing miracle, it was also sung with thanks for
punishing the Egyptian people: “the sea enshrouded them; the mighty sank like
lead in the water” (Exodus 15:19).
we mentioned last week, punishment is not merely carried out to punish the
wrongdoer, but to make a statement (in the case of the plagues, it was to show
the Jewish people the Omnipotence of G-d). Why do the Children of Israel find it
necessary to explicitly mention the extermination of the Egyptians in their song
Sefer HaIkrim (Book of Principles written by Rabbi Yosef Albo in the 15th
century) states there are three beliefs which are incumbent upon every Jew: 1.
The belief in G-d 2. The belief in
reward and punishment 3. The belief
that G-d gave us the Torah.
is reward and punishment so important that it is one of the three principle
concept of reward and punishment is one of the most logical and fundamental
ideas known to man.
concept involves knowing that for good deeds one will be rewarded and will be
punished for bad deeds. This does not mean “good deeds”, within our limited
perspective; rather it means on the cosmic level, for that which we were
created: are the actions performed helping or hurting the world? Are they
bringing us closer to G-d, or driving us further away?
and punishment provides a structure within which man can function. Rav Chaim
from Volozhin explains in his commentary to Ethics of the Fathers (3:1) that the
idea of reward and punishment provides a balance for the world. And while the
good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished, it does not necessarily mean
in a physical way.
It often means in a spiritual way, i.e., a person will have forged a
better relationship, and become closer, or sadly more distant from G-d.
we did not have this concept, life would have no meaning, as our actions would
be truly arbitrary.
So when the Children of Israel expressed their thanks to G-d, their intent was to glorify Him. One of the ways they did so was by mentioning this “attribute” (G-d does not really have attributes as He and His will are One; “attributes” is used here for lack of a better word) of reward and punishment they had experienced firsthand. Seeing G-d’s work at such close range provided them with the proper vantage point to see the beauty and structure reward and punishment provides for the world.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.