Shirat Hayam – The Song of the Sea is an exuberant elegy celebrating the redemption of the Children of Israel from Egypt and God’s parting of the sea on their behest. In their joyful thanksgiving, Israel sang out before God the words: “Zeh E-li v’anyeihu – This is my God and I will glorify Him.”
These words apparently raised a theological question for some of the rabbinic sages. After all, how is a human being truly capable of “glorying” God? A rabbinic midrash from the period of the Mishnah offered a number of creative readings of this verse to answer this question: “Rabbi Ishmael asked: ‘Is it possible for a person of flesh and blood to glorify His Creator? Rather, it must mean: I will bestow glory on Him through the mitzvot that I perform – before Him, I will prepare a beautiful Lulav, a beautiful Sukkah, beautiful Tzitziyot (tallit), beautiful Tefillin. Abba Shaul offers an alternative interpretation): Let us take after Him (God). Just as He is gracious and merciful, so, too, you should be gracious and merciful. Rabbi Yose said: I shall recount the glories and praises of the One who spoke and the world came into being. Rabbi Yose son of the Dormaskit (possibly the one from Damascus) said: I will make before you’re a beautiful Temple. (playing on the fact the word “naveh” also means “a dwelling place). (adapted from Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael Shira 3, Horowitz-Rabin ed. p. 127)
Each of these sages found a means to express tangibly their excitement over God’s glory. Our actions give voice to letting the world know how special God is to us. For Rabbi Ishmael, we express God’s glory through carrying out the ritual commandments in as beautiful a way as possible; for Abba Shaul, by becoming exemplars of God’s lovingkindness in how we treat others; for Rabbi Yossi, in the intension and beauty of our prayers; and for Rabbi Yossi the son of the one from Damascus, in building beautiful spaces in which to worship God.
We can exhibit our appreciation for God in the enthusiasm, joy and love found in our actions. Our lives can be our songs. If we share these qualities with others, it won’t be long before our voices become a choir for all of the world to hear.