This week’s Torah portion is Beshallach. As you may recall, Beshallach is the apex of the Exodus story with the Israelites fleeing Egypt and the Egyptian army nipping at their heels. However, upon further reflection, the story is a bit more complicated. At first Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go. They were guided by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. And they encamped at numerous locations before finally reaching the Sea of Reeds.
Only then did Pharaoh have one of his classic changes of heart. He sent out six hundred of his best chariots and numerous other soldiers and chariots to chase down the Israelites. When the Israelites witnessed this thundering army, they began to panic. They demanded to know why God brought them into the wilderness only to die at the hands of the Egyptians.
Moses replied to them, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Eternal will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again” (Exodus 14:13).
There is much more to this great story including that when Moses held out his arms, a wind blew all night. It was not the sudden parting of the seas like the Ten Commandments or the Prince of Egypt. Then, the Israelites crossed through and the seas came crashing down upon the Egyptians, drowning them.
Having witnessed this great event, the people began to sing. This song, the Song at the Sea, contains the Mi Chamocha, which we sing every week. According to tradition, the song was spontaneous, and the voices of the Israelites reached all the way up to the heavens.
Music has been and continues to be at the heart of the Jewish experience. There were other miraculous moments of song throughout our history. In modern times, as depicted in the movie Exodus, when the State of Israel was proclaimed, the entire new nation breaks out into the singing of Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem.
I believe music is the ultimate way to express what is in our hearts. That is why so many songs resonate with us, be they songs of love or songs of loss. We are especially influenced by the songs of our youth. Of course we also question the melodies of the next generation, but that too is also part of the musical journey.
Tonight, we will be celebrating Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, with our band and our choir and our Cantor. It will be filled with classical and more modern melodies. Not every song may resonate with you, but please note that there will be a lot of joy and rejoicing because we are trying to recapture that feeling, that essence of how our ancestors must have felt when they saw the seas parted and their enemies vanquished. We may not be able to recreate the sense of awe and the wonderment they felt, but by celebrating in this moment, we are able to bring alive all those great miraculous times, as well as those little times in our lives where we are reminded that music has the power to touch our very souls.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff