We celebrate the power of song this week with our Torah portion Beshallach, which includes the Song of the Sea – the song that Moses and the Israelites sang after they crossed the sea onto dry land escaping the Egyptians. Every year, the Shabbat of Beshallach is called “Shabbat Shira” – the Sabbath of Singing.
Music, and the actual act of singing, often comes forth from emotion. Music, like most art forms, can be an outlet for any emotion. As I imagine the Israelites leaving Egypt, the swirl of emotions seems almost palpable. I say swirl because there wasn’t just one emotion. We may think that the Israelites were celebrating their newfound freedom with joy, and perhaps many were. But swirling around with joy must have been fear and grief, relief and anger, excitement and anxiety. How beautiful that they could express their feelings in song. And what kind of song? Not a discordant cacophony as we might expect such conflicting emotions to produce, but rather a complex harmony. The words don’t really matter in this moment; it is the emotion that speaks out loud.
Music is powerful. The experience of singing is differently powerful. We sing and stretch muscles; we sing and feel the vibrations created by our own voice; we sing and move our breath, sometimes to the point of breathlessness.
One melody can inspire a different emotion in each listener and in each person who sings the tune. On this Shabbat Shira, I invite you to pay close attention to how you respond to the music of Tefilah: what emotion does it evoke in you as you listen or sing along? Does it reflect what you were feeling as Shabbat began, or did the music move you to a different place? What music did you want, what music did you need, and what music did you receive?
My hope is that the music of Shabbat Shira brings us healing and release; joy and comfort; an opportunity to express grief and anxiety; and most of all, an encounter with the Divine.