I’m going to start with next week’s haftorah, which (in minhag ashkenaz) ends with two psukim from ישעיהו פרק ט:
Isaiah is prophesying during the reign of the evil king Ahaz, that Ahaz’s son would be the “שַׂר שָׁלוֹם” who would redeem מלכות בית דוד. But there’s a textual oddity: the word לְמַרְבֵּה has a מם סופית in the middle of the word.
Hezekiah was king when Sennacherib conquered the Northern Kingdom and besieged Jerusalem. He, and all Judah, was miraculously saved when ה׳ destroyed Sennacherib’s army. He could have been מלך המשיח, and inaugurated then אחרית הימים, but he did not sing שירה after that miracle. On the other hand, the gemara says he did say הלל:
What’s the difference? And why does it matter?
We have שירה in the parasha and in the haftorah:
And we don’t always realize that the miracles in the two stories are similar: the chariots of the Canaanites in the haftorah were washed away by the flooding Kishon, like the Egyptians by the Red Sea:
And the gemara makes the connection explicit:
So we have a similar miracle and a similar שירה. The battle of נחל קישון is the culmination of the battle of ים סוף. But what happened after שירת דבורה?
There’s an important point in the wording here: ויעשו בני ישראל הרע. It’s the beginning phase of the “cycle of Jewish history” as repeated so many times in ספר שופטים, but the wording has been different the last two times:
שירת דבורה really marked the start of a new nation just as שירת הים did:
But as we see, it was in the end a failure; she (with Barak) had the potential of creating a new nation but all that happened was stasis for 40 years, then the people start sinning again. There is no בית המקדש, no ממלכת כהנים, no אחרית הימים. What went wrong? חז״ל lay the blame, at least in part, on Devorah herself:
Devorah started with שירה, but, like Hezekiah, doesn’t really sing שירה. That failure led to the failure of מלכות ישראל in that generation, and it would more than 200 years until Shlomo and the בית המקדש would finally be built.
The gemara makes a distinction between הלל and שירה:
Rav Samet says that we all sing הלל to thank ה׳ for all that He has done for us, but singing שירה requires what Rav Dessler calls התבטלות, self-negation. שירה is thanking ה׳ for all that he has done for the world, without thinking of “me”:
Moshe sang שירה at the Red Sea (there’s no mention of saving Israel in the song itself). Devorah came close but didn’t quite make it: עַד שַׁקַּמְתִּי דְּבוֹרָה. Hezekiah couldn’t do it at all. And that is what we pray for at the seder each year, that after seeing ourselves as redeemed from Egypt, we reach the level of selflessness to appreciate ה׳’s hand in the history of the world as a whole, and will sing a שִׁיר חָדָש: