- The Children of Israel escape across the Sea of Reeds from Pharaoh and his army, who drown when God drives back the sea. (13:17-14:31)
- Moses and the Israelites sing a song praising Adonai. (15:1-21)
- In the wilderness, God provides the grumbling Israelites with quails and manna. God instructs the Israelites to gather and prepare on the sixth day food needed for Shabbat. (15:22-16:36)
- The people complain about the lack of water. Moses hits a rock with his rod and brings forth water. (17:1-7)
- Israel defeats Amalek, Israel's eternal enemy. God vows to blot out the memory of Amalek from the world. (17:8-16)
by Jennifer Twitchell
From my heart I write this commentary. I don’t claim to be a Judaic scholar in any way. I simply wanted to share my thoughts on this Shabbat Shira, (Shabbat of Song), Exodus 13:17-17:16.
Music touches the lives of many people in different ways. I’m a firm believer that music surrounds us everyday in all types of mediums, and it offers us a variety of ways to enhance our lives.
Shabbat Shira is a special Shabbat, one that should be celebrated with more song, music, and dance than in our usual service.
We need to raise our voices and let Hashem know that we are faithful and we do believe in his holiness. Some people can express this in words, others, in dance, but I feel it most through song. This Shabbat is about song and how these songs have changed me.
What amazes me when reading this passage is that when the Israelites were set free and told to go, Miriam had the forethought that there would be a time for exultation. So, the women took timbrels and other instruments from their homes, and brought them with as they traveled through the desert toward the Sea of Reeds.
Who does that? You are finally told to leave and in haste, you think oh, let me get my timbrel? Why would that be an item you take? You are free, so you grab the unleavened bread, your sandals, the kids and Go! But Miriam did feel that the sound of her timbrel would be heard upon their escape from Egypt.
I’m sure you’ve played the game of “if you are stranded on a deserted island and you can only have 3 things, what would you take?” Let’s go back in history and see what Miriam would take? She brings an instrument and why? In my opinion, she knows that her hope and faith in Hashem, would allow Moses to lead them out of Egypt, and they would no longer be enslaved, and that would be cause for celebration.
As it happened, the Israelites crossed the sea on dry land, “and Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances.” (Exodus 15:20)
Many of you I’m sure are familiar with the works of the beloved Debbie Friedman. She wrote “Miriam’s Song,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZdSEsZ8bMo) and the moment I heard it my life changed.
“Miriam’s Song” is inspiring, uplifting, and just what I needed as I struggled with the challenges I was facing in my life. My issues seemed petty compared to what Miriam went through, but I felt Miriam’s faith, hope, courage, and strength were in that music that Friedman sang. Miriam believed there was light in the darkness, and I knew I needed to do the same. Music can be quite powerful. Miriam truly transformed who I am today.
Now, Miriam wasn’t the only one who sang of Hashem’s glory. Moses sang:
“Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? Who is like You, powerful in the holy place? Too awesome for praises, performing wonders!”
Mi-chamocha ba'elim Adonay mi kamocha ne'edar bakodesh noratehilot oseh-fele.
“Mi Chamocha” is a staple in our services. It is a song of redemption, and our faith in Hashem. The words give praise to the Lord that has brought us out of Egyptian bondage.
During the exodus, the Israelites questioned many times the validity of whether or not Moses (and Hashem) were truly leading them to their salvation or would it be to their deaths in the desert. Nevertheless, Hashem showed the Israelites in many ways that they would be free, never leaving them during this journey, showing them that his power was strong enough to overcome an army of Egyptians. I say, “Todah to Hashem!”
This song has a true life of its own. I Googled it and found so many hits on You Tube and other social media. “Mi Chamocha” doesn’t just go with our Jewish services, there are hundreds of versions of “Mi Chamocha” that people are singing around the world. I found a few favorites that just lit me up inside. See what you think,
http://www.rickrecht.com/album/shabbat-alive-live/ (Rick Recht)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr7JZ36FTUY (Debbie Freidman)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3Y-J6Ea3TI (A capella version)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tknPYGGrQq8 (Prince of Egypt)
Music is a huge part of my faith. I feel it. These are not just words to sing-along to; these are the words of my ancestors. The very people who were faced with tragedy throughout history, but were triumphant in the end. I am a Jew because they paved that road for me. When I sing, I feel my ancestors, their pains and their victories. I hope that my voice will be heard and that Hashem will be listening. Shabbat Shira reminds us each year to sing out the glory of Hashem.
I encourage you to listen with a different ear the next time you are at services. See if you can feel the redemption and listen it not as a required part of our liturgy, but rather a song to remind us that our ancestors paved the road we now take. Close your eyes and inhale the sounds of the song.
Music will always be a strong part of my faith. As I sit here now, I’m still hearing the sounds of the cello that I hear during Kol Nidre. Again, the music doesn’t just go away when I break the fast, it is a part of me until I hear it again. May you all enjoy Shabbat Shira and I thank you for allowing me an opportunity to share my thoughts.