This Shabbat we read from the Torah portion of Beshalach, which includes the story of the Jews crossing the Red Sea, is commonly referred to as Shabbat Shirah (“Shabbat of Song”), since the story continues with a song of thanks and praise to G‑d.
The sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, relates that Rabbi Yehuda Lowe, known as the Maharal of Prague (15121–1609), instituted the custom of gathering the children on this Shabbat and telling them the story of our ancestors crossing the sea.
The narrative would include the Midrashic tradition that fruit trees miraculously grew from the seabed, and the children plucked the fruits and fed them to the birds. Then, the birds joined in by singing the Song of the Sea.
King David says in Psalms, “Serve God in joy, come before Him in song.” In our daily prayers, we say regarding God, “He – prefers melodious song.”
The great Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchok Luria once said to his student that he merited the holy prophetic spirit of God because of his great joy when performing God’s commandments.
Here, we have an essential point expressed in the following law.
Maimonides writes in his Code of Jewish Law that although it is a mitzvah, a vital deed, to drink a cup of wine on the holidays, one should not overindulge in drinking and frivolity and claim he is increasing in joy, for this is only an expression of being wild and frivolous. We are commanded to be joyous and happy, which is an excellent service of God, and this cannot be fulfilled when wild and drunk.
The Bible says in Deuteronomy, “Because you did not serve God in joy and with a good plentiful heart, you will serve your enemies.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains that the true enemies of a person are destructive thoughts and internal challenges. These enemies are eradicated and, to begin with, not given a chance to come into our minds through the joy of serving God. King Solomon says, “In all your ways, you shall know Him.” So, if we must serve God in all our ways, we must always be joyful!
Once, a student came to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and said he was being “assaulted and overwhelmed with bad thoughts.” The Rabbi told him, “They gather in empty spaces.” Rabbi MM Schneerson explained, “If a person filled his mind and heart with the joy and delight, the richness and fullness of serving God, there would be no room for the emptiness and darkness to take hold.”
When a person feels excitement in his heart because he can give pleasure to his Creator by serving him, this strikes a particular chord that sparks light and vibrancy throughout that person’s body and life.
There will always be those who will mock since this is their mechanism for overcoming jealousy and guilt. A person should ignore those who mock him and those who only derive pleasure from physical, worldly pursuits.
There is a saying in the name of the Baal Shem Tov that “foolishness, sadness and a haughty feeling of self-worth are considered in many ways like a terrible sin of the Bible (although not actually) and, discriminating perception, the joy brought about through finding the good in everything, and a calm swiftness are considered (again, although not actually) a commandment of the Bible.”
Once, a great Rabbi saw someone dancing to his morning prayers. This person felt and understood the true joy and meaning of what he was saying. The Rabbi commented, “Great things will come from these prayers.” Another time, this same Rabbi saw someone dancing frivolously, called him by name, and said, “What a pity to wear out a good pair of shoes.”
The last words in the code of Jewish law are, “It is good to have a festive heart all the time.”
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