One of the key parts of the magnificent Song of the Sea that we sing this Shabbat, is the phrase, “this is my G-d and I will exalt Him…” (Shemot 15:2)
Rashi, citing the Sages of the Midrash, tells us that at that moment, everyone enjoyed sublime heights of prophecy. “Even a maidservant saw things at the Red Sea that were not perceived by the prophets Ezekiel or Isaiah” (Rashi, Shemot 15:2.)
This raises a striking question: what was so special about the experience at the Sea that it surpassed even our greatest literary prophets of the bible?
The Israelites had endured terrible sufferings in Egypt. Despite all the miracles of the Ten Plagues, the Egyptians had pursued them with the intention of re-enslaving them. They were trapped at the Red Sea – and then, the Sea split for them, and their enemies who pursued were drowned in the depths. The prelude to the Song of the Sea, concludes with the words: “And they believed in G-d, and in Moses, His servant.”
The words of praise that the Israelites then sang represented moments of clarity that are rare in history. They saw G-d’s justice against their enemies and all the wrongs against them were completely righted.
The great prophets of the bible foresaw the tragedies that would befall our people. They also foresaw the future redemption and the ultimate joy of the age of the Messiah. Their words have uplifted us across the generations. Yet the prophets never lived to see the fulfilment of their visions. The complete realisations of their prophecies remained abstract for them, as it does, still, for us. That absolute clarity of tangibly seeing G-d fulfil His promise of salvation, is what even the humble maidservant at the Sea was able to experience.
For most people, the complete answers to the Big Questions of life may only occur in the next world. Yet the generation of the Exodus experienced moments of absolute transparency, when they were able to proclaim, “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him.”
Every day we recite this passage in our morning prayers. We remind ourselves of the experience of our ancestors and we look forward to the time when we, too, will enjoy the clarity of the fulfilment of G-d’s promise of salvation.