“Song” in the Biblical Sense

The Midrash Rabbah (biblical exegesis from ancient Jewish authorities) comments that the Song of the Sea was unique in that “from the time of creation until then, no one had sung to God as the Jews did at that moment.” Similarly, the Mechilta (another biblical exegesis from ancient Jewish authorities) notes that throughout Scripture, there are only ten instances that are classified as “Shira (song).” What is it that makes these ten instances unique to the point where they garner their own category?

Rabbi Nosson Scherman in the Stone Chumash (Exodus;15;1) explains that “song” in the scriptural sense represents a flash of insight into past events which, at the time of their occurrence, seemed incomprehensible. Central to our belief system is that everything which transpires, including the suffering and travails of this world, is for the best. However, seldom are we privy to see how such events unfold.

When Moses arrived in Egypt and delivered God’s message to Pharoah, not only were the Jews not released, but their workload was increased. At that point in time, Moses complained to God, stating that from the moment he had arrived in Egypt, things had only gotten worse for the Jewish people. However, with the splitting of the sea, all became clear. Moses and the entire Jewish people were shown how the entire trajectory of their stay in Egypt, including their slavery, their increased workload, the ten plagues, and the deception of their departure, all led to the divine revelations which were taught to the world through these events.

Just as in a song, no single note is appreciated in isolation, so too are the events of our lives. Just as the dips and the rises of a song all contribute to its eventual beauty, so too are the highs and the lows of our lives.

Rabbi Elimelech Biderman mentions a heartening insight that demonstrates this thought as well. Scripture relates (Exodus 15;20) that “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances.” One might ask, what did the particular choice of the drum represent? Why were there no flutes or trumpets? Perhaps, suggests Rabbi Biderman, the message of the drum is that even from a “bang”, a “hit”, or a “blow”, music can be made.

On this Shabbos of Song, let us all take heart in this message. We might not understand the function of all of life’s events, but we believe with firm conviction that they ultimately contribute to the song of our lives.

About the Author
Baruch Weiss is a psychotherapy intern, a Rabbi, and a journalist.
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