When everyone thinks they’re right, poetry offers something different. A lesson from the Song of the Sea.
Possibly the most famous poem in the Torah – the Song of the Sea – appears after every party in the story is completely sure of themselves, and every party turns out to be wrong. Pharaoh is certain he should race after the Israelites he’s just let go; but it turns out he only thinks that way because God is tricking him. The Israelites are convinced they’ll all die, but that’s because (even after the Plagues) they’re not yet familiar with God’s workings in the world. Even Moses miscalculates: He thinks that the Israelites are meant to sit and wait for Divine rescue, but then God yells at him to stop sitting around and to march forward. When the Jews finally do move ahead, the miracle gets underway: God splits the Sea, and the Israelites break into song.
One of the things that draws me to poetry – much of it, anyway – is its sense of humility and awe at the process of discovery of the world. We thought we understood daffodils, or birch trees, or the Binding of Isaac, and then a poem takes our hand to guide us to how little we knew.
We’re trapped in a world getting more polarized by the day because so many of us think they’re 100% right at least most of the time. On Shabbat Shirah – the Shabbat bearing the Torah reading of the Song – we need to embrace how far off the mark we really might be. We need to understand the miracles that poetry can show us. Maybe then we’ll discover a better way to think about the world. Which will give us something to really sing about – victorious, together.