I should preface this dvar-Torah by admitting that I love to sing. Although I was an instrumental musician earlier in my life and even attended a Conservatory of Music as a saxophone player for my undergraduate studies, singing has always been in my soul. To sing in joy is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures a person can have in their life and is truly one of the ways we can serve God (ivdu et adonay besimhah).
We need song and music and melody to help us celebrate the good in life, and also to help us mourn our losses and take stock of where we are on our own personal journeys. When I sing I often feel myself opening up my soul to divine blessing and receiving the goodness that is inherent in the world and in the music.
I would like to share with you a mashal, a personal story of my spiritual journey: Several years ago I attended a conference for song-leaders and synagogue musicians. It was a chance for people to get together and share new music which was emerging, and also a place for attendees to learn from the wonderful faculty. The davening at this conference was out of this world, not just because of the energy in the room, but also the prayerful music which was created by the participants. I remember clearly hearing harmonies being sung during one of the prayers, and listening to a perfect chord being struck and all the overtones which followed—literally shaking my body with the power of the sound. It was a moment of revelation.
Similarly, bnai yisrael is singing out in joy this week as we celebrate shabbat shirah by reading shirat hayam, The Song of the Sea. They cross through The Sea of Reeds—from slavery into freedom—and soon will be well on their way to Sinai. But before they leave to continue on their spiritual journey the Israelites take stock of where they have been, and offer up their prayers in joyful song.
I imagine their song being thoughtful, acknowledging the suffering and loss which was inflicted upon the Egyptians in order to secure their freedom. Unfortunately, as we have learned so often throughout history, freedom is almost always bought with the blood of our fellows and often those whose faces we never see and whose voices we never hear. I pray it is also joyful, so they are able to come together and feel the vibrations of the overtones of their simhah.
And so I offer this week what I imagine a joyful song coming from bnai yisrael at the shores of yam suf might sound like:
You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place, Adonay, which you made to dwell in—in the divine sanctuary which your hands have established. Adonay will reign forever (Exodus 15:17-18).