| Parshah |

Fill in the Blank

Az Yashir is a song with immense spiritual power, and Bnei Yisrael realized that they were composing a song for all future generations


“Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sang this song to Hashem, and they spoke, saying…” (Shemos 15:1)


he way Az Yashir appears in the Torah is unusual. Every piece of text is situated on top of a mostly blank space, with text appearing underneath only at the edges — like a brick resting on the edges of two bricks — separated by wide empty space. The Gemara refers to this as “a half-brick on top of a whole brick.” What’s the reason for this design? (Rabbi Eli Mansour, Weekly Parsha Insights)

I prefer blank walls. I like the airy open feeling they give me, and so there’s very little decorating the walls of my living space at home. (There’s enough on my mind without having things on my walls as well.)

But last week I actually did hang something up.

Rav Yitzchak Karo explained that the blank spaces allude to the fact that it’s impossible to express all the praise owed to G-d, because He is infinite. The blank spaces indicate that although Bnei Yisrael praised G-d for this great miracle, they realized that their praise was incomplete, and there’s infinitely more that needs to be said.

Our family has a large family tree that traces my mother’s family all the way back to the time of Rav Hai Gaon. The tree is based on the offspring of Rav Yehudah Leib Zvebner, son of the famed Rav Avraham Shaag. Rav Yehudah Leib had six children and each child’s progeny is recorded in the many hundreds (thousands?) of small boxes that stretch out across the page. It’s truly remarkable to see how many people descended from just one person.

There’s another explanation, too. Az Yashir is far more than a song. The Chida writes that whoever recites Az Yashir with intense concentration earns forgiveness for all his sins. If a person finds himself trapped in a difficult dilemma that seems to have no solution, just like Bnei Yisrael were trapped against the sea, he should recite Az Yashir and he’ll be helped.
Az Yashir is a song with immense spiritual power, and Bnei Yisrael realized that they were composing a song for all future generations. That’s why the introductory verse says, “They spoke, leimor — saying.” This song should be sung for all time.
Still, as much as Bnei Yisrael knew the significance of the song they were now singing, they also knew their limitations. They realized they lacked the knowledge and insight to infuse the song with the force and power that it needed to have. And so they left empty spaces, relying on G-d to “fill in the blanks.” The empty spaces in Az Yashir symbolize the empty spaces in our prayers, in our lives, our deficiencies and incompleteness. Even when we try to pray with sincerity, purity of mind, and concentration, we know that our prayers will never be perfect. We therefore leave “empty spaces” and ask G-d to fill them, to make our prayers and our service perfect in the merit of our efforts.
This is precisely the attitude we should have toward prayer and toward our religious lives in general. We must try our hardest to do all we can and then beg the Al-mighty to “fill in the blanks” and generously accept our service as though it is perfect.

The tree stops at my maternal grandmother’s generation. But my daughter is a graphic artist. (It’s always helpful to have one of those in-house.) She painstakingly copied the font of the original words and added my mother and her siblings, then my siblings and me, plus my children and grandchildren kein ayin hara. The addition looks exactly as if it were part of the original. (Have I mentioned that she’s uber-talented?)

I took this printout, enlarged it, and then had it professionally framed. It now hangs in a space of prominence on my previously bare living room wall. I feel inspired looking at it, seeing my name as part of this huge extended family. And it’s mind-boggling to contemplate how much each one of these individuals has produced. It motivates me to pray that one day my offspring will also spread across a huge section of the world. B’ezras Hashem, I should be zocheh to reap the nachas of knowing little me contributed to filling in a huge blank space in Hashem’s world.


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 878)

Oops! We could not locate your form.