In the Torah portion of Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16) we read about the miraculous Splitting of the Sea. Emerging triumphantly from the Red Sea, the Israelites sang the ‘Song of Moses’, a heartfelt ode of gratitude. This song encapsulates their profound reverence and thankfulness to God for saving them from certain death. Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, explains that we learn from this song, specifically the line, “this is my God, and I will glorify Him” (Exodus 15:2), how to express gratitude to God for being saved.
But this line also begs the question: How does one truly glorify God? What is the meaning of this phrase?
Rabbi Mirvis first quotes the Talmud, which suggests that we glorify God by beautifying the commandments that we perform. Each commandment is not merely a duty to be discharged. Instead, it’s an opportunity to showcase our appreciation for God and His divine commandments. This perspective urges us not to perform commandments perfunctorily or to just get them over with, but to fulfill them in a beautiful and glorified manner. Doing so brings honor and glory to God.
Many of the medieval commentators offer another layer of interpretation. They suggest that the Hebrew word for “I will glorify Him,” v’anveihu, comes from the Hebrew word naveh which means “a home,” connecting the concept of glorification of God to the idea of building a home for God. This interpretation stems from the aspiration, expressed from the dawn of the Jewish nation’s existence, to create a sacred space for God, a divine abode on earth. The best way to glorify God is to build Him a Temple, something the Israelites aspired to do already as they were leaving Egypt.
However, Rabbi Mirvis prefers the interpretation of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who takes a more intimate and personal approach to the connection between v’anveihu and building a home. He explains that glorifying God is not limited to building an external home for God, i.e. a Temple, rather glorifying God means making oneself into a home for God. It God means reflecting His presence through one’s very being, both through the levels of spirituality that we attain as well as the acts of loving-kindness that we perform.
This idea is beautifully exemplified in the life of Abraham. When he interacted with the Hittites to secure a burial place for Sarah, they recognized in him a “prince of God.” In Abraham, they saw a person who personified God’s presence through his conduct; a paragon of holiness, spirituality, and loving-kindness.
Thus, Rabbi Mirvis articulates a profound and multifaceted approach to thanking God for the gift of survival. It’s not just about performing rituals and commandments; it’s about elevating them, cherishing them, and allowing them to infuse our lives with beauty and meaning. It’s about creating spaces – both physical and spiritual – where God’s presence can dwell. Most importantly, it’s about embodying divine attributes and being a living testament to God’s presence in the world through our actions, our kindness, and our unwavering commitment to reflect the divine in all that we do. In doing so, we become, like Abraham, veritable princes and princesses of God, carrying His presence in our hearts and minds, and radiating it out into the world.