Shabbat Shalom. This week’s parsha, Beshalach, is no doubt one of the more action-filled and well-known stories in the Torah. The Israelites flee from Egypt, and, led by a pillar of smoke or flame, God leads them to the shores of the Red Sea. Pharaoh and all of his men, chariots, and horses give chase and trap the Israelites, who are filled with fear at the impending doom. They cry out “was it for a want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness?” God tells Moses to lift up his staff over the water, and (quick warning, MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: cover your ears now if you don’t know how this turns out) the Red Sea parts and the Israelites get to escape through. As the water comes crashing down around the Egyptians, the Israelites have a safe and dry path to the other shore. When they arrive safe and sound, the Egyptians thoroughly defeated, Miriam leads the Israelites in song.
Songs are important to USY . . . VERY important. We sing fast songs, slow songs, happy songs, sad songs, short songs, long songs, and everything in-between. The types of singing we do can be put into three main categories: sloach, ruach, and davening. Each type of song is another way for USYers to become closer to each other, to Jews everywhere, and to God. Since Be-shallach contains the most famous song in the Torah, I wondered if I could find the roots of USY song here.
The Torah does not make note of any singing DURING their walk through the sea. However, in his great work of modern midrash “The Prince of Egypt” Rav Walt Disney has the Israelites sing “There Can Be Miracles” as they make their way through with walls of water surrounding them. This is sloach. Sloach are the songs we sway to, sitting in a circle surrounded by our friends. They aren’t necessarily sad, they are slow, meaningful and full of emotion. From Nachamu to Yerushalayim Shel Zachav, sloach forms bonds to the songs and to the people we sing them with. Much like “There Can Be Miracles” unified the Israelites as they crossed the red sea, these beautiful tunes unify USYers throughout the country. We use sloach to empower and welcome each other, to make sure that no one is left out. Sitting in a circle, surrounded by friends new and old, singing the beautiful tunes of sloach is the epitome of the inclusive environment USY creates.
And then there is ruach. Standing, jumping, and yelling out our praises to God and happiness at being with each other, ruach fills a room with joy. It is an ode to our love of Judaism and USY, as we dance in a circle, half-singing and half-shouting with boisterous tunes, clapping hands and dancing feet. Ruach gets people up- it encourages everyone to join, to be a part of the group, to be a part of something bigger. As Miriam picked up her timbrels and began singing out in elation and wonder, other women joined in. It was a display of passion, of joy and elation. Just as they celebrated, so do we. We celebrate being together, being a part of USY, and being able to have so much fun.
So if we have sloach and ruach in our portion, where is the davening? For that we need to turn back to the other side of the Red Sea. When the Israelites were filled with fear, they cried out to Moses, who encourages them to have faith in Adonai, “The Lord will do battle for you; hold your peace!” This would seem to be a moment ripe for prayer. Never would there be a better moment for a “Please, Please God, help us prayer.” But the Torah goes on, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘ Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.’” Here is the davenning; here is USY davenning. So we can presume that Moses did utter a “Please, please God” prayer in his heart – and each of us in USY come with our own personal thoughts and prayers. But God tells him to move the people forward, and this is what USY DOES. Yes, we sing, we celebrate, we have fun, but mostly we DO. Whether through Tikkun Olam projects or fun roller skating events where we build connections, we are moving the people forward.
As all of us put our feet in the water and move the people of Israel forward together, I invite you to join us after kiddush in singing and look forward to your support of USY’s activities and events in the future. Shabbat Shalom.