Saturday, February 11, 2012

Women Singing by the Reed Sea

Once the Jews miraculously crossed the Reed Sea, and after they saw the dead Egyptians and their chariots washed up on the shore from which they just emerged, the men, led by Moses, sang a song of praise to God; And then their women, led by Miriam, did the same (Ex.15:20-21).

ותקח מרים הנביאה אחות אהרן את התף בידה ותצאן כל הנשים אחריה בתפים ובמחלת
... ותען להם מרים שירו‬ לשם

"Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the drum [or tambourine] in her hand, and all the women followed her with drums and dancing. Miriam led them in responsive song, 'Sing to God ....'."

But our sages tell us the singing voice of a woman is erotic (Brachot 24a). How could these women have done something against the grain of Judaic law, which states a man must not hear the voice of a woman as she sings?

Two giants of Torah, as well as the Rebbe, tackled this question.

The Gaon of Vilna held that the women, in fact, did not sing. He bases his claim on the masculine form of the word "them", להם, interpreting this to mean that the women encouraged the men to sing. This, he said, is the meaning of the phrase "ותען להם מרים"; They told the men to sing.

This explanation, however, does not fit Rashi's explanation of what happened. According to Rashi, Miriam sang the verse and the women responded by singing that verse after her.

The Rogochover (he ordained the Rebbe) also deals with this question and says the women did sing, only their voices were drowned out by the drums they used while singing, thereby preventing the men from hearing their voices.

But here too the explanation does not tally with Rashi's explanation because Miriam's voice had to be heard otherwise how could the women respond in turn?

The Rebbe answers this question saying that Rashi himself provides the answer in a very clear-cut fashion. In his commentary on a prior verse, "... This is my God Whom I will beautify...." (Ex.15:2), Rashi explains the word "This" in the phrase "This is my God", saying the people so vividly sensed God they could point to this specter with their finger. Rashi then says, "That which [even] a maidservant saw by the sea, the prophets themselves never saw."

In other words, says the Rebbe, because Godliness was fully exposed to the Jewish people, because divine radiation became so tangible and omnipresent, the issue of eroticism had no place in such a reality. Nothing but holiness penetrated every human fiber.

The story of Adam and Eve exemplifies this idea. Before they sinned, "They were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed." (Gen.2:25). There was no significance to nakedness. But as soon as they sinned, the Torah tell us, "... they realized they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves as loincloths." (

That is, the sin caused God to conceal His revelation by a measurable degree; What was complete, sublime holiness until now gave way for a negative element to enter the space and block the holy radiation of the divine presence. By thus distancing Himself from man's visibility, man now got room for unholiness to blend into his environment to become a liability to reckon with.

Now, after the sin, after the creation of a negative sphere of influence, there's good reason to ask, as God asks Adam, "Where are you?" (
Gen.3:9), i.e., Where do you stand, do you stand on the right side of an issue or do you stand on its wrong side?

By sinning, Adam created for all his descendants a navigator's muddle that allows one to have splits in his personality, where on some issues he can be on the right side, and on others on the wrong side.

As another example, consider a naked infant running around the house. Nobody practically pays attention because of the child's innocence. But were that child a 14-year old running around naked, that would provoke an entirely different reaction because this age innocence no longer applies.

So, with regard to the situation when God's presence was felt on that miraculous day on the 7th day of their first Passover, in the first month of their freedom and formation as a nation onto God, in the year 2448, on their way to receive the Holy Torah in 43 more days, the Jews had no issue with eroticism. The only sensation they felt that day was nothing but sheer Godliness.

By the way, I want to add about the vision of the Rebbe, as demonstrated here, where the Rebbe could appreciate vicariously the actual experience Jews then felt, as did Rashi, and as Rashi alludes to when he says, "That which a maidservant saw by the sea, the prophets themselves never saw." Rashi says, in Genesis 1:4, regarding the light created on Day 1 of creation, "God saw that this light is inappropriate for use by evil people, so He stored it away for use by righteous individuals in later generations." This lofty light gives such individuals, especially the Prince of the Generation, the ability to see and feel from an entirely different dimension and perspective we others are not yet privy to. With this special, archived light, these few individuals in every generation can see from one chronological end of the world to the other.


  1. p.s. your last comment at WHT was brilliant and never were truer words spoken.......:-)Yasher Kochacha.