Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Bishalach 2014 – Kol Isha

women singing(2)(1)Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:

This week we begin with a big hearty mazel tov to the Oisvorfer’s childhood friends Rochelle and Dr. Moishe Jeger who announced just last night the engagement of their beautiful daughter Faigy to Dovid Eisner of Edison, NJ. As mentioned just last week, the Oisvorfer has been close friends with Moishe since 1969 and with Rochelle not too many years later. We have celebrated many, many good times together and look forward to dancing at the upcoming wedding. 

This week, we will also wish a mazel tov to our friends Esty and Dr. Yussi Silverstein who will be celebrating the bat mitzvah of their  beautiful daughter Shira, the youngest of their five, count ‘em girls (two immediately available), who we hear got her name because she was born on or near shabbis Shira.  

We also wish mazel tov to two of the Oisvorfer’s oldest friends Rivka and Mendy Friedman whose latest grandson had a bris earlier this week. The Oisvorfer walked down the aisle at the Friedman wedding back in 1977, where have the years gone?

Kol Isha

Shoin: just last week (until the end of the parsha), the Yiddin were, says the  Meshech Chochmah,  still enslaved and had slid down to the 49th level of tuma (impurity) having committed all kinds of sins. What kind? Ver veyst. Says the medrish: millions perished for their less than exemplary behavior. What a difference one shabbis makes. This week they were free mamish. After a brief period of heightened exuberance capped off by singing and praising the RBSO for His efforts, they were quickly back to their old ways and habits. We will zicher be reading about their shenanigans next week and all of Sefer Bamidbar; stay tuned.


A lot going on in Parshas Bishalach ober this year we will only cover one, maybe two topics. Les-man-dipolig (few would argue) that kriyas yam suf- the splitting of the sea-  was one of the biggest nissim (miracles) the RBSO performed on behalf of His about to be  Chosen People and you can read all the details in this week’s parsha. We have previously covered most of the parsha in 2011-2013 and avada you can read the heylige Oisvorfer’s insights at www.oisvorfer.com. In fact, you should! This year we’ll begin our parhsa review with the song that the Yiddin spontaneously sang following their safe arrival onto dry land. And avada you all know that as a result of Moishe’s famous Oz Yoshir single, this shabbis is also called shabbis Shira.  Spirits are taka uplifted and many are taka inspired as the baal koirah (Torah reader) chants its 19 verses with special cantillations. Ober what happened immediately after Moishe led the Yiddin in song?


Says the heylige Toirah (Shemois 20, 21) azoy: “Miriam the prophetess, Aharoin’s sister, took a drum in her hand and all the women followed with drums and with dancing. And Miriam led them in song, ‘Sing to God for His great victory, horse and rider He cast into the sea’”.


Did we just read the Miriam and other women sang, played instruments and also danced in front of the men and no one complained?  When the Oisvorfer was growing up, all three of these activities were strictly forbidden. And even if they weren’t, they are today. Women singing in earshot of men and efsher also dancing? Yikes!  Unheard of, unthinkable and unacceptable and what taka took place? Hey, what happened to kol Isha or Koil B’isha Erva (a woman’s voice is a sexual stimulant), a law put on the books by some rabbis proclaiming that women’s voices were mamish sexually stimulating? And mixed dancing, oy vey!  What’s p’shat here and how is  it that the Toirah seemingly didn’t have an issue with Miriam and her first ever all-women’s band and choir singing, performing and dancing in front of all the men? Is this muttir (ok)? And if it was back then, what happened since?  Or, can we klerr that efsher since they all just finished a general mixed swim in the ocean, that mixed singing and dancing was or is mutir? Nu, lommer lernin.


Says the heylige Gemora (Berochois 24a) azoy: “a woman’s voice is a sexual stimulus” and accordingly, the good rabbis, worried that chazerim like many of you, would listen to women sing and then -chas v’sholom (heaven forbid)- become stimulated, if  you chap, and then act out in chazerish fashion, forbade koil Isha (woman’s voice). Shoin, fartig (over and done), women’s voices were silenced. In fact some hold that men shouldn’t even talk to women for that reason. Some are more machmir (stricter) and don’t talk to their own wives. Typically those in the latter category have other reasons; seemingly they’re stam (generally) tired of hearing her voice altogether. Over the years many have pontificated over this issue and of course dissected every word of the few sentences describing this event to see if Miriam and the girls (women) really sang, sang only with other women, with the men, before them, or after them, ver veyst. Were they standing in the back, in the front, or efsher up in the balcony? Was there a mechitza? One thing is zicher: there is no consensus and seemingly no eye witnesses to tell us what happened. Then again, the heylige Toirah does tell us that she sang. Case closed?  Not!    Efsher she and her band were only lip synching, a model since copied by other famous performers from time to time and Miriam’s, efsher the first lip synching band in recorded history, ver veyst.  A few even suggest that the entire episode didn’t take place: she wasn’t singing at all. But doesn’t the heylige Toirah tell us that she sang and banged away at the instruments the women brought along for mamish such an occasion? Indeed it does but that didn’t stop those who could not fathom that the heylige Toirah allowed this to happen, to drum up their own version of what took place at the bandstand. Of course it’s difficult for the good rabbis to prohibit something that is clearly permitted in the heylige Toirah; taka says the TAZ  that the Sages are unable to forbid something the heylige Toirah explicitly permits- the heylige Gemora  cannot contradict the Toirah.Instead they went about trying to figure out if the entire story actually took place. And if it didn’t, they could prohibit it. In other words: if the heylige Toirah says it’s mamish ok, the Gemora cannot prohibit it and the question is, did it or didn’t it happen? Not so gishmak but deviously insightful. Shoin, let’s then begin by reading innaveynig (the text of the heylige Toirah) and let’s mamish study the words.


כ  וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן, אֶת-הַתֹּף–בְּיָדָהּ; וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל-הַנָּשִׁים אַחֲרֶיהָ, בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלֹת. 20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.
כא  וַתַּעַן לָהֶם, מִרְיָם:  שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה כִּי-גָאֹה גָּאָה, סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם.  {ס} 21 And Miriam sang unto them (alternatively: Miriam answered them): Sing ye to the LORD, for He is highly exalted: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.


Nu, as we just read in posik 21, it appears that Miriam mamish sang ober others suggest that based on the wording, specifically the Hebrew word of Va-ta-an- (see verse 21 above) that Miriam did not at all sing. If not singing, what was she doing and why did we all grow up thinking that she did? Nu, let’s see what a few had to say about what took place.

Citing the Mechilta (a medrish), says Rashi azoy:  she did sing ober Moishe sang the song to the men and they responded after him. Separately Miriam sang the song to the women and they responded after her. Ok- they both sang ober maybe not together and all is kosher. Say others:  Miriam sang for the women and (perhaps while) Moishe sang for the men. And says Reb Aryeh Kaplan (The Living Torah) azoy:  the women sang at the same time as the men. OMG!  And says the YalkutShimoni: va-ta’an refers to actual singing, implying that Miriam sang the song. Ok she sang and so what? Says Rashi and of course he knew, not to worry because the women seemingly had a separate sing-off. Moreover, he suggests that neither Moishe nor Miriam really sang their songs; they merely chanted them as poetry of praise. Chanting and singing are not the same. Got all that?


Says the Medrish azoy: seemingly the malochim (angels) wanted to sing praises to the RBSO before the women but Miriam answered them and called for the women to sing. This explains the language of va-ta’an as meaning that she answered the angels, and gives significance to her calling the women to sing. She did sing!


Said Red Saadia Gaon:  she did sing but not exactly. Miriam and the women recited -meaning spoke – in alternation, Moishe’s entire song ober says Targum Unkelos not so:  the women sang the song.


Ober said the Radak (Sefer Ha-Shorashim) azoy: the word va-ta’an does not mean that she answered; instead it means that she testified. She did? According to the Radak, she merely was answering or testifying that was Moishe sang was correct. So says also Reb. Zalman Sorotzkin (Oznaim La-Toirah) where he similarly explains that Miriam only indicated her and the women’s approval to Moishe and the men’s song. She/they answered the men, in agreement to the men’s song.


What happened back then in the midbar, ver veyst. Seemingly she (Miriam), according to many, did sing, dance and play an instrument. How do we know this? Because the heylige Toirah says so and who are we to argue with the RBSO? No good can come from that. Ober as the people (the Yiddin) became bigger and bigger oisvorfs the rabbis had enough and efsher because 50 years ago), many orthodox shuls hosted social mixers during which men and women mamish danced together, cholila- say it’s not so please, the rabbis decided that it was time to take another look at the gantze Miriam singing incident in this week’s parsha and many decided that it never happened. She was there but didn’t sing. Maybe she had a sore throat and couldn’t sing that day, ver veyst. Efsher (maybe) she sang but was off key, maybe she was merely davening loud and other creative answers as to what happened are all offered. One thing is zicher: mixed swimming did the Yiddin go as they crossed the Red Sea and few complained. Maybe the women were wearing early versions of the shvimkleyd (modest women’s bathing suit/ensemble), ver veyst. Or did they?  Mistama in years to come, we will read that the men and women crossed separately as well, ver veyst. Zicher there’s still room for more revisionism.


And says the Me-Am Loi’ez, (Reb Ya’akov Culi) mamish gevaldig azoy: Miriam and the women used musical instruments while Moishe and the men did not. Taka why? Seemingly the instruments were intended to drown out the sounds of  the song so the men would not hear their sexy voices and become overly stimulated. Overstimulated men in a hot midbar (desert) can lead to trouble, as we will learn soon about their behavior with the Midianite and Moabite meydlich, if you chap- which seemingly they did. In other words, they did sing but since they were also playing instrument, their voices were masked and therefore this is not considered koil Isha and therefore the men weren’t stimulated and the rabbis were happy.  Shoin!


Ober listen to his even more amazing version. Says The Chida (Devash Le-Fi, ma’arekhes kuf, no. 19), this bombshell: it’s taka emes that the men and women sang together and the men mamish heard their voices, ober it was kosher. Why?  Because the RBSO was seemingly there, His Divine Presence rested on them. Therefore mixed singing was not a problem; with the RBSO or His presence in attendance, women singing or mixed singing so that men could hear their voices, was not prohibited.

Nu, be sure to invite the RBSO to the next party. And of course, that’s why wherever a person goes, he should go with the RBSO. Gishmak!


Ober said the Vilna Gaon (quoted by the Talelei Oirois) that it’s not emes and there is a reason that the heylige Toirah used the word Va-ta-anwhen Miriam took over the festivities. It means that Miriam and the women would not sing because the men would not be allowed to hear them. In other words, the women did not sing.  And taka, believe it or not, the Oisvorfer went searching into different interpretations of the wordva-ta-an (verse 21) and found at least 7 different ways that the word is used, depending of course, on someone’s personal bias.

  • “And Miriam answered them”
  •  “Miriam sang to them”
  •  “And Miriam sang to them”
  •  “And Miriam sang unto them”
  •  “And Miriam chanted for them”
  • The Living Torah – “Miriam led them in the response”
  • Artscroll/ Stone Tanach – “Miriam spoke to them”

Which is it? Ver veyst?


Ober says the Malbim azoy: the women sang their own song because the entire Exodus was due to the merit of the righteous women. Da’as Mikra also interprets the verse as meaning that Miriam and the women sang their own song together. And says the Netziv: not only did the women sing, they composed their own song and Miriam concluded each stanza with the refrain recorded in the Toirah. She was also a composer. Gishmak!


And said Rabbi Samshon Rephael Hirsch: they sang  in tandem with the men initiating the song and women responding by repeating it. Oy vey and they still got the Toirah a few weeks later?  Seemingly yes! And listen to this: says Hirsch: the women’s singing was of equal importance to the men’s. Taka why?


Says the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush Weiser):  the women claimed that all of this (the redemption from Egypt) occurred in their merit. How so? Nu, zicher you remember that it was Miriam and Princess Batya that saved Moishe when he was cast into the Nile and that  Shifra and Puah (Yoicheved and Miriam according to Rashi)  who  defied Paroy’s orders. Therefore, they insisted on singing separately, since they had (such) a (large) share in the miracles.


Nu, whatever happened there, seemingly the RBSO didn’t mind. It’s only years later that the rabbis discovered that women’s singling voices can be a sexual turn on for men, maybe for the rabbis themselves and forbade it.


On the other hand, given all the different ways of interpreting the word Va-ta-an and the rest of the posik, it is zicher not certain that Miriam and the women sang. Maybe they didn’t. And if they did, they may very well have sung among themselves, possibly even while the men sang among themselves, ver veyst. The text is ambiguous and leaves enough of an opening so that different rabbis could interpret the event as they deem appropriate and what is appropriate for one rabbi is not necessarily appropriate to another. Hence we have controversies like the one brewing right now with Rabbi Avi Weiss over conversion. A better man is mistama hard to find. Moreover, even commentators unconcerned with halachic issues, read the episode differently. So we close with the Chida who said that even if the men and women sang together, it was all good: with the RBSO in attendance, all is good. One just has to invite Him and make sure He’s in attendance. Any moment of divine revelation is an exception to any rules made by rabbis.


Nu, speaking of koil Isha and in preparation for this week’s review, the Oisvorfer was taka wondering about the source for Koil Isha. And taka where else but in the heylige Gemora, which discusses any topic one can imagine and a few that one cannot, can we find this discussion. And taka, as we quoted above, says the heylige Gemora that a woman’s voice is mamish a sexual stimulus. Ober upon a careful read, it appears that this was written in the context of retaining concentration when reciting the Shema prayer. And said Rav Hai Gaon (Otzar Hagaonim) and other places azoy: the prohibition of a man hearing a woman sing is limited to someone who is reciting the Shema.


And the final word comes from the Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld, the son-in-law of the Chasam Soifer, who rules that several voices together, lemoshol (by way of example), a girls’ choir  is always permitted, since “two voices singing together makes each individual voice unrecognizable and indistinguishable.” And based on his theory, avada and avada Miriam and her band were permitted to sing. Moreover since the song was mamish in praise of the RBSO sung by many voices at one time, all was in order. Case closed.


Shoin let’s chazir what’s seemingly permitted and not: one female gyrating singer, say Miley Cyrus style is seemingly not permitted even if she is singing Oz Yoshir because zicher her singing and dancing could lead to sexual stimulus which could avada lead to mixed dancing, swimming and other things wet, if you chap. Ober two women and more singing with musical accompaniment seems to be OK unless your rabbi tells you otherwise and for some strange reason, most will.


Let’s close with one more thought. By now you likely forgot the very beginning of the parsha where we learn that the Yiddin, on their way out of slavery, not just left with gold, silver and other valuables but they – actually Moishe- took along the bones of Yoisef.  Says the heylige Toirah (Shemois 13:19):  “And Moishe took with him the bones of Yoisef, for he (Yoisef) had adjured B’nei Yisroel, saying, ‘God will remember you, and you shall take up my bones with you from here.’”


Efsher you’re wondering why in a time when the Yiddin were being chased out of Mitzrayim and had no time to fully bake the bread, an incident which led to the entire Matzo gisheft (business enterprise), including  jobs for thousands of people kneading, baking, packing, delivering and selling – a multimillion dollar gisheft mamish for retail stores and enterprising shuls, Moishe was busy with Yoisef’s bones. Why wasn’t Moishe carrying his load of gold? Why couldn’t Yoisef’s bones, long buried, stay right there in Mitzrayim along with many others who died there? Moreover, efsher you’re also wondering why the bone moving incident is recorded here in our Parsha when it actually took place during last week’s parsha where this mamish seminal experience,the grand exodus, is described in all its glorious detail? It seems epes strange that the heylige Toirah interrupts its narrative which describes the Yiddin’s mapquested midbar  journey to reveal that Moishe had taken Yoisef’s bones with him.


Ober says the  Medrish:  as the Yiddin were getting ready to leave, they weren’t going empty-handed. Why? They needed gold, silver and jewels in order to have currency to go shopping and re-establish themselves. Some pocket money if you will. And just last week the Oisvorfer reminded you that the RBSO promised Zeyda Avrohom that following slavery, the children would go out with great wealth. And zicher when the RBSO promises, He makes good!  Moreover, efsher because they couldn’t possibly schlepp so much gold and silver, especially the women, who were also schlepping musical instruments for their sing-off, the RBSO had the river spit up additional gold and other valuables that were adorning the chariots the Mitzrim used to chase down the Yiddin.


And why did the Yiddin need all this? Perhaps they knew what the price of making Matzo and making Pesach would be in years two through forty, ver veyst. And what about outfits for the seder? Efsher they thought that a new mall was opening in the Midbar; efsher a Costco or Walmart.

And while the Yiddin were busy cleaning out their neighbors (the goyim) Moishe Rabaynu was busy searching for the coffin of Yoisef in order to ensure that his remains be transported to Eretz Yisrael for burial. Why bother schlepping bones and digging them up from near the seabed? Who needed bones? Avada you remember that Yoisef made his brothers swear (of course by holding onto that certain place to make the oath valid), that they would bring them along on the journey to the holy land. Now Moishe was fulfilling this oath. Ober why?


Nu, the Oisvorfer’s chaver, Dr. Jeger (whose daughter got engaged just last night) wrote a serious piece on Yoisef’s bones, way too long for this venue ober he does quote a Medrish which said azoy: Seemingly Yoisef’s bones were needed because without them, it’s possible that the sea would not have split. Is that so? Says the medrish (Yalkut Shimoni, Shmois 234) azoy: the Soton (Satan), bad guy that he is, complained to the RBSO as to why He was performing miracles for the Yiddin since they too were idol worshipers. And let’s not forget that  they must have done a few (thousand) other avayros as well since they did successfully fall down to the 49th level of impurity, whatever that means. Upon hearing this, the  Angel of the Sea sought to drown them and not permit the sea to split. This is hinted at in the Verse (Shmois 14:29), “V’hamayim lohem Chomah” – that the water transformed into a wall. The word “Chomah” is written without the letter “vov”, which therefore also spells “Cheimah” -meaning anger. Ober Rav Meir Simchah of D’vinsk in his Sefer Meshech Hochmah (Shmois, 14:29) raised the question as to why this prosecution statement was not voiced by the Soton earlier, while the Yiddin  were still enslaved in Mitzrayim? If they were so giferlich, why were they spared while the Mitzrim were absorbing a schmeising by way of the 10 makois? Nu, the Oisvorfer suggests that efsher we can kler that the statute of limitations was over for their sins, ver veyst.


Ober said the Meshech Hochmah azoy: the posik (verse) in Tehilim (114:3): “Hayom Ro’oh Vayonois” — the sea saw and it fled. This alludes to the splitting of the Red Sea, which took place on the seventh day of the first Pesach during which the Yiddin left the servitude of Egypt. The Medrish on Tehilim (Shochar Tov, 114:3) addresses the issue of what the sea “saw” that triggered it to split. One of its well-known responses is “Ro’oh arono shel Yosef yored L’Yam” — it saw the casket of Yoisef entering the sea.  “Omar HaKodosh Baruch Hu, Yanus Mipnei Hanos” — it should flee because of the one who fled – namely, Yoisef, who fled from the overtures of Potiphar’s wife, as it is stated (Bereshis 39:12), “Vayonas Vayetze Hachutza”-he fled and went outside. Seemingly, it was Yoisef’s righteousness, his refusal to service Mrs. Potiphar, if  you chap, that saved the day; seemingly this one act overrode all their bad deeds. Seemingly Moishe knew what he was doing when he remembered to bring Yoisef’s bones along for the journey.
A gittin Shabbis-

The Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman

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