Shira = song

Insights into “Word Concepts” in Torah: The Torah Portion of BESHALACH Exodus 13:17–17:16

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Wings of Song
Wings of Song
צילום: PR

The children of Israel leave their long period of slavery in Egypt and we are then told;

“The children of Israel were marching out triumphantly (BeYad Ramah)." (Exodus 14:8)

They are then confronted with the reality of Egypt overtaking them at the Red sea and they become frightened, no more triumphant. It is very difficult to condemn their fear and concern. They were a just released “enslaved” people with the broken ego and fears of an enslaved people.

Yet after the dramatic splitting of the Red sea we read of a change;

“On that day Hashem saved Israel from the hand of Egypt, and Israel saw Egypt ( Mitzrayim) dying on the seashore, And Israel saw the great hand, which Hashem had used upon Egypt, and the people feared Hashem, and they believed in Hashem and in Moshe ( Moses), His servant.” (Exodus 14:30-31)

The text does not say “Egyptians dying on the seashore ”but rather Egypt. It was Egypt and all that Egypt represented to them, that they saw vanquished on the shores of the sea.

As a result; “they believed in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant." (Exodus 14:30-31).With their fears vanquished they had the courage to move into faith.

After the red sea covered the enemies of Israel, we read:

Then Moshe and the children of Israel sang ( Az Yashir) this song to the Lord, and they spoke,  saying, I will sing ( Ashira)  to the Lord, for very exalted is He; ( Exodus 15:1)

This song they spontaneously sang, the  “Song at the Sea( Shirat HaYam) is  one of the great epiphanies of the Jewish experience and of human history. According to the Mechilta,  "what a maidservant saw by the sea, Yechezkel Ben Buzi (the prophet Ezekiel)  did not see in all his days.". As a result of what they saw they broke into collective prophetic singing.

In tractate Sotah there is a discussion amongst the sages as to how this manifested itself. Did Moshe receive the vision and then teach the song to the others or not? "Rabbi Nehemiah said: It was like a schoolteacher who recites the Shema in the synagogue. He begins first and they continued after him." (Sotah 30b).

 Rashi explains Rabbi Nehemiah's view as saying that all the people were seized by divine inspiration and the same song and words came into their mouths at the  same time.It simply poured out from their souls.

Words are the language of our minds and our physical existence, while music is the language of our soul. Words limit while the niggun ( the melody )  elevates.

Shira represents an intrinsic intuitive understanding that sometimes cannot be truly comprehended or assimilated simply by our intelligence and powers of logic.

TheAlter Rebbe, Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi of the Chabad movement was visiting a village and at a community meeting he was  showered by different people raising many difficult and painful questions all at the same time.

Instead of simply answering the questions immediately, he burst into a Niggun-a melody  ( later termed " The Niggun of Matan Torah") . The room became quiet as the Rebbe sang with passion and devotion. Some soon joined in. Within a short time many of those with difficult questions felt that they had already received their answers.

That was the incredible experience of the song of the Levites in the House of G-d.

Shira is also deeply connected to prophecy. It is both the catalyst and the result of the elevated state of understanding called “prophecy”.  "When the musician played, the hand and power of the Lord came upon Elisha and he prophesied."(2 Kings 3:15 )

That is why the the Mechilta teaches ,  "what a maidservant saw by the sea, Yechezkel Ben Buzi (the prophet Ezekiel)  did not see in all his days.". As a result of what they saw they broke into collective prophetic singing.

Shira stands out as being one of the most spontaneous and prophetic of the ten forms of Praise (described in tractate Pesachim 117a). "Shira" is unconditional praise.

The Midrash Tanchuma (on  Beshalach 10.) describes  ten  examples of “Shira” in the history of Israel. All of these were examples of the souls simply bursting into song. Spontaneous expressions formed out of a deep mixture of deep yearning and thankfulness

The first of these examples of “ Shira “is the song sung on the night of the Exodus in Egypt,(Isaiah 30:29.).

The second is Shirat Hayam ,the “Song at the Sea,”(Exodus 15:1-21.) .

 Then there is the  “Song at the Well,”(Numbers 21:17-20.).

The fourth is the song of  Moshe at the end of his life  (Deuteronomy 31-32.) .

Then the song of Joshua when he asked HaShem to stop the  sun,” ‘Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon.' (Joshua 10:12-13).

Also the song of Devorah’(Judges 5) and King David’s song of praise after  his salvation from the hands of his pursuer;(2 Samuel 22)are "Shira".

Another was sung during  the dedication of the Holy Temple,(psalm 30 ) and the ninth example is King Solomon’s “Song of Songs”

The tenth song, says the Midrash, will be the shir chadash, the “new song” of the ultimate redemption; (Psalm 96)

In all these cases the songs are expressions  that came pouring forth after great redemption and release. They come out of souls that understood how close they could have come to oblivion or barren wilderness. They come out of real appreciation of the hand of G-d. as a result they  were songs of yearning to be connected to that  divine Truth,

What is true of the power of Shira in the corporate or "people" sense is also very true in our own personal walk of faith.

Yet the power of "Shira" (song) is as powerful in our private lives as it is in our corporate experience.

 Reb Nachman writes " Get into the habit of singing a tune. It will give you new life and fill you with joy. Get into the habit of dancing. It will displace depression and dispel hardship."

 He goes on to teach that " Even if you can't sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your home. But sing."

The words that introduce the Song at the Sea “Az Yashir” are written in the future tense. Our sages suggest that the Torah is not only relating to the song of that time, but it is also speaking of the End of days . That is to say that Moshe , his people and subsequently the whole world will truly sing again .

In the final days of redemption all of mankind will truly understand how close they were to oblivion and failure . They will all then recognize the power of Shira (song). as a result it will be then :they will sing a new song". That song will be unconditional praise as well.

“Sing ( Shiru)  to HaShem a new song( Shir Chadash) , sing( Shiru)  to HaShem, all the earth ( Psalm 96:1)

LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther