ISRAEL WILL SING – Ex.15, Shabat Shirah – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
This week we observe the annual Sabbath of Song, when the Torah reader intones the jubilant Song of Moses with its special melody – a paean of gratitude and joy, celebrating the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry land, and reaching freedom after centuries of Egyptian slavery. Pursuing forces sank under the returning waves. Just a year or two ago, modern archeologists discovered some gold wheel-covers of Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea’s sands. Yes, it happened. Moses had plenty to sing about.
Shirat haYam – the Song of the Sea – prompts the name of this special Sabbath, called Shabat Shirah – the Sabbath of Song. This week many congregations will hold concerts of Jewish music, and feature musical services, encouraging and rewarding the work of contemporary Jewish composers. I look forward to attending a service like that at the synagogue that I served for many years, where my former student is now Cantor and will perform a composition of mine. Indeed, music and song play a huge role in our lives. Biblically, this Song of Moses is just the first of the great songs. In the Book of Numbers we read the people’s song of elation at finding a well in the desert. In Deuteronomy, one of the last acts of Moses is to voice his testament, Haazinu, “in the ears of the whole community of Israel, the words of this song:
Listen, you heavens, and I will speak,
and let the earth hear the utterance of my mouth…”
So the power of song sparks our lives. The Mechilta counts 10 important songs, the first being the Song of the Sea, and the last being the song we will sing with the Messiah when he arrives. That, says this Midrash, will be the eternal song.
But before leaving those exultant singers on the east shore of the Red Sea – Moses leading the men and Miriam leading the women – let’s look at one grammatic curiosity. The Torah does not say Az shar Moshe uv’ney Yisrael – “then Moses and the Israelites sang.” It says Az yashir Moshe – literally “then Moses and the Israelites will sing.” When all slaves will be freed, when hatred and oppression will be drowned, when human life will be fulfilled and not polluted – we will all sing. That is what we hope for. That is what we sing about. With the Messiah, with our neighbors, with each other.
Join the chorus!