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Parashat Beshallah

January 22, 2008

Parashat BeShalah: Shabbat Shirah 5768
The Power of Song
By Hazzan Ram’n Tasat

I remember it clearly; it was around 1970 when, for the first time, I heard the music of a Spanish group, proscribed at the time by the Franco Administration. The group was called “Aguaviva” and hardly anyone remembers them anymore. The words of their songs remain with me forever:

. . . My brother, yours is the house, the fire, the harvest. I take with me the song. Everything is yours but I leave you mute. And how are you going to light the fire and harvest the crops if I take away the song from you . . .

Standing at the sea was a time of rebellion, a time to leave behind the known slavery, to submerge ourselves in the unfamiliar, the unknown. Not all agreed, some were not even consulted and yet they trusted their leader. Moshe was convinced that God was with him, and with great confidence; he extended his hand over the sea. Only when Moshe took initiative, God worked during the entire night, sending a powerful wind to drive back the sea, transforming the sea bed into dry land.

The children of Israel were saved from persecution, from oppression. They were hopeful; they were free from bondage but still exasperated and very unsure that freedom was better than the predictable routine of slavery. Moshe showed the way singing: – Az yashir Moshe u Benei Israel. (Ex. 15:1) – to remind them that it was time to offer thanks, that there was a purpose to their freedom. Moshe understood immediately that freedom in itself wasn’t enough, that human beings were and are more than a hunger for meat and a thirst for water; they needed to be connected to their neshamah, their spiritual being.

The Shirah, the Song at the Sea, is the ultimate act. The liberation has been accomplished and yet that could not be sufficient. The song was a gate, a powerful instrument to express our deeper emotions and an opening to that world that brought them closer to the Creator of the Universe.

Singing means that we have not forgotten to praise, to thank. We must add our voices to those of Moshe and the children of Israel and continue singing with them a song that they composed but we have made ours. We share the Shirah with them and also with Miriam, Yehoshu’a, Devorah, King David, King Shelomoh and all those who sang after them.

When we sing, we realize that this mere act transcends making sounds, that singing holds the potential for a better world, a world where redemption might be tangible. This is why, I believe, the mystics in Safed chose to go out to the fields and sing “Shiru l’Adonai shir hadash” (Sing unto God a new song). Not a new melody, but a powerful song that will open the gates for our true liberation.

When we sing passionately, we can feel-if only for a moment-free from the bonds of all the idols that oppress us daily and constantly. “Be-shir, ve-kol todah nevarekh l’Elohenu”-with song and sounds of thanksgiving we shall praise our God. (Tzur mishelo – Shabbat song)

And yet, we recognize that even the song cannot adequately thank the Master of the universe for the treasures that we already have, even if sometimes we’re unaware of their meaning and importance. And so we proclaim:

Ilu finu male shirah ka-yam . . . ein anahnu maspikim lehodot lekha . . .” Even if our mouths were filled with song as the sea is filled with water, we still could not thank You fully, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, or bless Your name for even one thousandth of the myriad wonders You have done for our ancestors and for us.” (Prayerbook)

It is in this spirit that we do not affirm, but rather, humbly ask:

Mi khamokha ba-elim A’- Mi kamokha ne’edar ba-kodesh” – Who is like You among powers, God? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praise, doing wonders? (Ex. 15:11)

which also implies:

Dear God, give us the capacity to get closer to You, to understand ourselves better, to find the strength to state our priorities clearly and accept the responsibility of translating our prayers into action.

It is then, perhaps, that we would be able to add our voices to the ultimate song, the song that we all sing together as we read:

. . . God said to Moshe: gather the people, and I will give them water [of redemption]. “Az yashir Isra’el et ha-shirah ha-zot,’ ali veer ‘enu lah.” Then all Israel will sing this song: Spring up, O well and answer to it. (Num. 21:16-17)

We have to rescue the song. Otherwise, how are we going “to light the fire and harvest the crops . . .?”