Az Yashir Moshe- in the aftermath of the splitting of the Red Sea and the ensuing drowning of the Egyptians, the Torah uses these three words to introduce the Shirat Hayam. The Midrash offers a perplexing comment on the choice of the word Az:
Amar Moshe Lifnei Hakadosh Baruch Hu: “Yodeia Ani Shechatati lefanecha b’Az …… l’kach ani meshabeichacha b’Az.”
Midrash refers back to the beginning of the Exodus story- Parshat Shemot (5:23). Moshe at that time was reluctant to represent Hashem in the process of redemption and only after Hashem promises that his efforts will be met with success does he agree to embark on the mission. However his first meeting with Pharaoh was a complete disaster: instead of things getting better for the Jews Pharaoh decrees that the slavery will intensify: no longer will the Jews be provided straw and yet their output of bricks must remain at the same level. Moshe, feeling dejected and embarrassed turns to God and says, “why have you caused evil to this nation? Why have you sent me? Umei’Az bati el Paro ledaber bishmecha, heirah l’am hazeh”- “Since I went to speak to Pharaoh in Your name, God, things have just gotten worse.”
Fast forward to today’s Torah reading, Beshalach. Now that the Egyptian army has been decimated and the Jews are free, the Torah chooses to use the word Az once again to introduce the Shirat Hayam, indicating that Moshe wishes to atone for his usage of the word Az at the beginning of the story by using it again here. How are we to understand this Midrash, and what is the significance of the word Az?
Rabbi Moshe Amiel, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv in the 1930’s, explained that this Midrash is teaching us a lesson about the power of perspective: Our perspective can be a description or an aspiration. Sometimes our perspective is based on the reality as it seems. That is how Moshe used the word Az at the beginning of the story. After initially meeting Pharaoh Moshe could only see the reality as he confronted it- his meeting met with utter failure.
The Torah comes back to the word Az to introduce the Shirat Hayam- once again spoken by Moshe but this time with a completely different meaning. Here Moshe is leading a people that is tasting its first moments of freedom. The possibilities at that moment are endless and Moshe capitalizes on the moment by using the word Az, but this time to indicate the potential of this new free nation under the direction and protection of Hashem. The usage of the word Az here indicates Moshe’s realization that man has the capacity to see the world not only as it is, but also as it can be.
We all experience moments of inspiration and insight: Moments when we are inspired to take action. Moments when we realize change is in order. Moments when we understand that the way things have been need not be the way that things continue to be. By noting the word Az here and how it is compensating for its earlier usage, Chazal want us to understand that Moshe (and Bnai Yisrael) experienced such a moment of inspiration and insight at the Yam Suf. And so can we today as we commemorate that important and formative event in the development of the Jewish People.