This Shabbat is special in that we read of leaving Egypt, crossing the Reed Sea, and singing our first song. Because we sing the Song at the Sea, the entire Shabbat is named ‘The Shabbat of Song’, Shabbat Shira.
We are born as a people when we emerge on the other side of the sea. We inhale and take our first breath as free people; we are transformed from a clan to a nation. The first thing any newborn must do is breath, and that first breath results in a sudden burst of crying. Each parent waits for that first cry, the proof of life and breath. But, in this moment of national birth, as Israel emerges from the sea, we inhale our first breath and sing. As a newborn bonds to its parent, we bonded to God through breath and song.
Our sages debated how Israel sang the lyrics to a song they didn’t know, since Moses is composing it on the spot. One answer is that Israel was not singing the words, the people kept repeating the first word: “Ashira”, “I will sing”. Every time Moses completed a sentence, the people sang their commitment to covenant and life: “I will sing”.
In fact, the Torah refers to itself as ‘this song’, and when we chant Torah to each other we sing the traditional notes. We have shaped the ritual of passage into Jewish adulthood, a Bnei Mitzvah, as calling a young person to the Torah to hear them sing it. We have learned the importance of song, and the importance of committing to it.
A newborn baby does not consciously experience its birth. The baby suddenly finds itself in a room of light when it had only known darkness; cold when it had only known warmth; aloneness when it had only known connection – of course a newborn will inhale and cry. On this Shabbat we read of our conscious transformation, our feelings of freedom and safety, enveloped by God, whose Divine Presence is palpable– of course we would inhale and sing.
It is traditional to stand in the service when the Song at the Sea is being read from the Torah. We stand to remember that first instant we stood together, that moment of absolute completion. We do not deny that life presents challenges, but on this Shabbat we recommit ourselves to sing.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.