Parashat B’shalach

February 2, 2023Rosanne M. Selfon

This week’s Torah portion Parashat B’shalach highlights the magnificent Shirat HaYamor, Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18), which praises God for saving our ancestors from their Egyptian pursuers. This significant parashah embraces high drama worthy of any Hollywood film: 

1. God’s guiding the Israelites with a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day; 

2. the miraculous parting of the Reed Sea; the ever-faithful, courageous Nachshon taking that first step into the waters to cross the sea (Did you know he was Aaron’s brother-in-law?); 

3. God’s providing sustaining water and manna for the wandering, newly freed Israelites, whose persistent kvetching and whining drove Moses crazy; and finally, 

4. led by Joshua, the victorious Israelites conquered the Amalekites in the first of many battles on the way to the Promised Land.

But let’s consider that sea crossing. What happened just after the Israelites reached dry land? Take a moment and turn to ”The Torah: A Women’s Commentary,” from page 386 through page 392. You will delight in visually seeing the sea’s waves as you read the beautiful words of the song/poem. 

Modern scholars believe that the song was written and performed by women, primarily attributed to our prophetess Miriam. In ancient days, women often wrote and sang the genre of military victory songs when troops returned from battle. Although our beloved leader, Moses, seems to take the lead, a male leading singing and dancing in an ancient culture denies history because music, dancing, and singing always fell in the domain of the women.

Music makes my heart soar! How do you feel when you hear a favorite melody…an opera…a symphony...a tune from the past? Written liturgy can be poignant and inspiring; many of us have favorite passages in our prayerbook or remembered poems. But music…ahhh! Music personally talks to my soul. Any genre of music (please exclude vulgar rap and heavy metal) gets my head bopping and toe tapping. I’ve been known to sway and clap with sheer delight! And that can happen anywhere, including services, much to the chagrin of my darling granddaughter Mila (14 is that age when even beloved Bubbios can be embarrassing!).  

Our prophetess Miriam had the right idea! In fact, Song of the Sea is so essential to us that it is written in a special manner in the Torah in two columns, a reminder of the waters of the Reed Sea parting. And when we read or chant those words annually, it is tradition to stand and recall the miraculous traversing to safe if we were crossing ourselves. 

And we, you and I, surely know that Miriam gathered all the women with their drums and joyfully praised God, singing (thank you, Debbie Friedman, z’l), “We’ve just lived through a miracle…we’re going to dance tonight!” How many times has that music roused you? I know I’ve joined hands and proceeded around a room with women (and sometimes men) to celebrate. We dance to honor Miriam and all those who have brought us freedoms, then and now.

One final thought: have you ever been at one of our summer camps during a Shabbat Oneg song session? Oneg means joy, and camp Shabbat song sessions reflect limitless joy. Your eardrums might never be the same, but your smile will never be broader. Song leaders gather in the center of the room and lead one song after another as all of the campers sing. They clap, sing, stamp, dance, pound the tables, and extol being Jewish. Ask any camper what they love about camp, and the first response is always, “SHABBAT!” I imagine Miriam would have loved seeing these young Jews celebrate Shabbat joy with song and dance. 

There are many, many gifts our ancestors and Torah have bequeathed to us. However, may I be so bold as to say the joy of music is one of the greatest gifts, and it begins this Shabbat with Song of the Sea. Whenever you can croon, hum, or belt out a song that makes you smile and frees your soul. Sing your joy! Sing like Miriam and her women at the Reed Sea. 

Shabbat Shalom! May you sing and be joyful!

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