“We’re all strings in David’s harp”, said Joey Weisenberg at this week’s Hadar’s Singing Communities Intensive, four days of non-stop soulful singing, which he runs with his incredibly talented ensemble. It’s hard to write when one’s head is full of melodies, and yet, this line struck a cord (haha) with me, especially on the backdrop of this week’s Torah portion.
The book we’re beginning this week, “Exodus”, Sh’mot, is also called “the 2nd book”, not because it is simply the second (of course), because the 3rd one is not called “the third”, but because if the first one told the story of creation, this one, too, tells the story of creation, a second creation – not of individuals but that of nationhood. And just like the first creation, it too comes out of תוהו ובוהו – mess.
We are in Egypt, and the curtain rises over the Hebrews in Egypt (to the tune of Prince of Egypt). There is slavery, mud, danger, little food, harshness, sand, suffering… we’re so focused on what there is, that we don’t notice, what there is not.
The book, which in Hebrew is called “names” and begins with the names of the tribe leaders coming to Egypt, slowly loses all names. People are referred to mother, daughter, sister, king, midwives. Although we know their names, the Torah does not refer to them with their names, but through their function. A name is a symbol of an identity that’s greater than any one function an individual has. A name indicates purpose; a sense of direction in life; a place we come from and a place we’re going to. Slavery on the other hand, strips away that identity. You do not matter anymore, only what you do for the society around you. And it better be good. And beneficial. And in accordance with the king’s commands. But you yourself don’t matter at all. You’re a number. And easily replaceable.
And this is going to be the struggle in this week and the many weeks to come: to get out of slavery; to get out of the narrow straights – which is the meaning of the name for Mitz’rayim, Egypt, same root as tzores, troubles.
“We’re all strings in David’s harp”. Sometimes, we open our mouth and nothing comes out. We don’t always know which note are we; how loud, how soft to sing; who will like our voice, if any. This is the whole story, over and over again – how to leave slavery in its broadest sense, and journey out towards freedom. How to find our voice. After losing everything, how to regain our name, identity, purpose. How to be a string in David’s harp, to sing the most beautiful music, with just the touch of the wind.