I remember years ago when one of my Rabbinic mentors said that music can touch the heart more so than the spoken word. I can think of countless times in my life when I know that to be true. As someone who enjoys so many types of music, I know that in so many ways, music can help me feel a spiritual or emotional high and I appreciate nearly every time it does. For most of my life, I have been a frustrated musician trying to play instruments such as the piano, drums, trumpet and guitar and it was not until recent years that I realized the voice is the most powerful musical instrument. That is why it is the Jewish tradition to sing most of our prayers, to chant our sacred texts of Torah and the Haftorah and to join with the congregation in the communal prayer experience.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Shira because tomorrow we read the Song of the Sea, the first communal singing experience of the Jewish people as we expressed our gratitude and joy after crossing the Red Sea. We will reenact that moment tomorrow morning as we read Shirat HaYam and reconnect to the powerful themes of the moment. At The Jewish Center, we will use this story to help us celebrate a few special occasions for a few of our families including a new baby girl, the birthday of a special young man and the recent wedding of a fantastic young couple.
In addition to these celebrations, I invited Cantor Warschauer to teach us about the role of music in our tradition and he will share his expertise and experience with us. He will focus not only on the words we sing but also highlight the role of instrumental music which will be included in his D'var Torah tomorrow morning. Also, in honor of Shabbat Shira, since the Cantor will be speaking, I will be leading the davening and I hope that you will join us and add your voice to everyone else who will be singing along as I lead. I plan to use many of the traditional melodies that so many of us like on Shabbat and perhaps include one or two new melodies to help us feel a new connection to the liturgy.
The Song of the Sea is not only included in the Torah Reading on Shabbat Shira but it is also included in our liturgy on Shabbat and during the week. Each time we read these verses, my eyes are drawn to one particular verse - Ozi V'Zimrat Ya, Va'yihee Li Lishua - God is my strength and my song, so may God be my salvation. This verse is unique in the sense that it is the only verse that appears in all three sections of the Bible - Here in Exodus, in the Book of Isaiah and also in Psalms. It is also noteworthy that all three of these Biblical references are included in our liturgy. The Song of the Sea is in the daily and Shabbat morning service, the Psalm is part of Hallel on Holidays and the quote from Isaiah is included in Havdalah recited at the end of Shabbat.
There are many melodies written to this verse and I encourage you to go on line to listen to some of them. I plan to include one tomorrow morning. As I sing this verse, I recognize that it has become almost like a mantra for people who struggle in their lives; for people yearning for personal strength as they face their own challenges. I recall moments in my own life when I turned to these words and this melody to help me face a medical challenge that was unlike anything else I ever faced in my life. The moment renewed my strength not when I read the words or just recited them by heart but rather when I sang them, over and over, both silently and aloud. That is what we hope to create tomorrow morning and every Shabbat when we come together as a congregation. The power of communal singing can transform us, and I know many of us feel that transformation every Shabbat we join others - both Friday night and Shabbat morning.
Ozi V'Zimrat Ya, Va'yihee Li Lishua - God is my strength and my song, so may God be my salvation.
I look forward to hearing your voice tomorrow morning in shul,
Rabbi Adam Feldman