“And Hashem saved Bnei Yisrael on that day from the Egyptians, and Bnei Yisrael saw the Egyptians dead at the edge of the sea. And Bnei Yisrael thus saw the great might which Hashem used against Mitzrayim, and they believed in Hashem and in His servant Moshe.” (Shemos 14:30-31) These famous words are the prelude to the shirah that we recite every day in our davening. Upon deeper examination, this statement seems to attribute the level of Bnei Yisrael’s belief in Hashem to the great miracles that they witnessed at Yam Suf. This raises obvious questions. Much earlier on in the account of Yetzias Mitzrayim, when Moshe and Aharon first appeared to the Jews and delivered the tidings of their coming redemption, performing the signs that Hashem had empowered them to perform, the passuk (Shemos 4:31) relates, “The Nation then believed and understood that Hashem was seeing their oppressive situation and would redeem them; and they kneeled and bowed to Hashem.”
Is there a substantive difference between their belief in Hashem at that point in time and the level of belief engendered by the splitting of the sea?
The Gemara in Berachos (4b) states, “Who is a ben olam haba? He who puts the berachah of geulah (referring to the berachah of ga’al Yisrael, which is the last post-kerias shema berachah recited every morning and night) just before the beginning of the amidah, without any interruption whatsoever.”
The term ‘ben olam haba’ would most likely refer to someone who not only has a ‘share’ in olam haba (which every Jew does) but to one who inherently carries the spiritual qualities of the World to Come (ben olam haba translates as a ‘son’ of olam haba). Geulah means redemption, and refers to the redemption from Egypt and the subsequent splitting of the sea —the subject of that rather long berachah— and the amidah is the silent prayer in which we ask Hashem for our needs.
We know that the halachah requires that one start the amidah immediately upon concluding the berachah of redemption, but why is doing so that important? Certainly, it is difficult to understand why one who does so would thereby acquire such great, deep, spiritual qualities. Besides, most of us do so every day, twice a day —don’t we? What does that mean? Is it that easy?
Rabbeinu Yonah in Berachos asks just these questions. He gives two answers, the second of which will be the topic of our present discussion. He explains that we certainly do not ascribe such ‘potency’ to the act of reciting the amidah right after the birchas hageulah. Rather, we are referring to the inner meaning, the concept of contemplating the geulah and then immediately —while under the influence of that contemplation— asking Hashem for our needs.
Rabbeinu Yonah writes, “When a person mentions the redemption from Egypt (culminating with the salvation at the Red Sea), praises Hashem for it, and contemplates its meaning, [he thus inculcates the middah of bitachon and faith in G-d within himself,] and then expresses that bitachon by proceeding to request from Hashem his daily needs. For he now understands and feels that it is only Hashem who provides. One who has no bitachon, makes no requests,” says Rabbeinu Yonah. My tefillah must be sincere. If I feel that it is my strength and cunning that gets me what I am looking for and I just want a little help from Hashem —my tefillah is not really sincere! Thus, contemplation of Hashem’s salvation allows me to internalize my bitachon and puts my tefillah on a completely new level.
Rabbeinu Yonah continues, “So we see in the Midrash, which states that since Bnei Yisrael saw the great miracles in Egypt, miracles that superseded the laws of nature, they had bitachon in Hashem and were saved. Thus, this person now prays with the bitachon that Hashem will hearken to his tefillos, just as Hashem heard the cries of Bnei Yisrael and saved them due to their level of bitachon in Him. This is what is meant by the statement that one who davens immediately following contemplation of the lessons of the redemption (i.e., an infusion of bitachon) is a ben olam haba. For bitachon is the essence of emunah and awareness of Hashem, and thus he has the spiritual qualities of olam haba.” Such a person is living emunah, practicing ‘applied’ emunah (i.e., bitachon), and the point of the immediacy is that the person should be maintaining that level when he enters his world of tefillah.
However, this still leaves us with what seems to be a nagging question. Rabbeinu Yonah speaks of Bnei Yisrael attaining their level of bitachon through observing and experiencing the miracles that Hashem performed for them, yet he also says that it was in the merit of their exercising bitachon that these very miracles were performed for them! As Rabbeinu Yonah states, the person davening exhibits that bitachon that Hashem will respond to his pleas, just as Bnei Yisrael merited that, and this is manifested through davening right after the berachah of geulah.
Rashi on Chumash actually expresses the same thought in his explanation of the passuk (Shemos 14:15) “Tell Bnei Yisrael to enter Yam Suf.” He writes, “Tell them that they deserve salvation through the merits of their forefathers and the emunah they exhibited when they left Egypt and went into the desert without proper provisions. They believed in Hashem and followed Moshe… thus they merited the splitting of the sea.”
If so, emunah and bitachon seem to be both the cause of meriting a yeshuah (salvation) and it is also described as the effect of experiencing and contemplating redemption. Which one is it?
To be continued…