How many of us sing in the shower? What is it about the shower that makes us sing??
Maybe we inherited the combination of water and singing straight from this Torah portion, B’shalach, where we find the grand song, sung by everybody after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.
There are so many wow things about this that it’s hard to know where to start. For example, the story of this birth of our nation as a birth of a human being, going from a place where everything is provided, dictated by someone else; a very tight and narrow place through water, like the passage of a baby through the birth canal, to open space, to freedom. Initially, we are very young and needy. We complain, oh, how we miss Egypt! The great food we had there! It was soooo good! What, were there no grave for us there so you took us here?! We complain a little like infants: We want what we want when we want it – now or sooner!!! Growing up is going to be a challenging journey.
Moses in turn, manages to comfort and sooth each of their concerns. There was a group who wanted to go back to Egypt; others wanted to fight the Egyptians; others still wanted to pray, while others wanted to give up their life jumping into the sea. Moses said:
“ויאמר משה אל העם אל תיראו, התיצבו וראו את ישועת ה’ אשר יעשה לכם היום, כי אשר ראיתם את מצרים היום לא תוסיפו לראותם עוד עד עולם. ה’ ילחם לכם ואתם תחרישון
To those who wanted to commit suicide, he said, rise and see God’s salvation; to those who wanted to go back to Egypt, he said, “The Egypt that you saw today (or – until today), you won’t see again”; to those who wanted to fight, he said, “Hashem will fight for you”, and those who wanted to pray, he said, “and you’ll be quiet”, as if, this is not the right time for prayer.
But this verse can be (of course) understood differently: “Hashem will fight for you, and you will keep quiet” is one way to understand it: “Fight” in Hebrew – yilachem – shares its root with bread – lechem, as in struggle for basic sustenance; tacharishun – can mean, be still, but it can also mean “you will plow”: (lehacharish – be quiet; lacharosh – to sow), perhaps sharing a form of purposeful, quiet participation and attentiveness. I’m not sure yet, but this same verse can be read: ‘you will plow and Hashem will give you bread’ describing the complementary partnership that is yet to come.
Yet, because for now, life outside of the womb is magical. For the Children of Israel, water came from the ground (in the form of traveling wells), and bread – rained from the heavens (in the form of manna).
The manna came down every day, except Shabbat, in the exactly right amount needed. Every day, the people went to sleep with no clear knowledge of the food for the morrow, except faith. Maybe that is also symbolized by the water coming from the ground, because water is often a metaphor for the Torah. Perhaps we can learn that their foundation was Torah; and perhaps therefore, it was possible to have more faith in the manna coming, whenever it might come.
Back to the song:
The sages teach that “a maidservant saw on the Sea more (miracles) than Ezekiel (the prophet) saw in his visions”. There were so many miracles to witness that even the prophets will have a hard time to match the kind of closeness to G-d in his revelations. That feeling of “wow” and exuberance by those who truly “saw” was captured by the song.
And yet, another layer: The song started out with Moses and the people, expressing their joy and longing for God to deliver them. But it wasn’t complete until Miriam joined it. Miriam, who’s name originally meant “bitter”; the little girl who stood by another water to watch over brother, float to safety, joins her brother, and with her, all the women, their tambourine and joyful instruments. Throughout the years in slavery, the women were the ones who pushed for surviving and thriving, and we’ll get back to that at another parasha. For now, we can just note that only when everybody got together, now the celebration would be complete.
And — The very best clips from “Prince of Egypt”. Enjoy!