The novelist Samuel Butler once said “You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it.” Judaism is many different things, but first and foremost it is a faith. Beshalach represents the genesis of faith in Judaism. We are told, for the first time, that the people of Israel “believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant”. Narrowly escaping Pharoah’s army, the Israelites witness the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and break out into the “Song at the Sea”, a spontaneous song of exaltation and thanksgiving. This historic moment will be re-enacted in synagogues throughout the world this Shabbat. The art of communicating and inspiring others through music, whether in concert or in prayer, is the raison d’etre of the Shabbaton Choir – and how fortunate we are to have their members as our guests this Shabbat and to enjoy the fresh musicality and brilliant harmonies which make the Shabbat service so uplifting.
There is an inner connection between music and the spirit. So when we need to express emotion, we turn to melody. Hannah sang when she had a child. When Saul was depressed, David would play for him and his spirit would be restored. David himself was known as the “sweet singer of Israel”. The Levites sang in the Temple, whilst today we preface our morning prayers with P’sukei de-Zimra, the “Verses of Song”, with a crescendo in Psalm 150 in which instruments and the human voice combine to sing God’s praises. Mystics go further and speak of the song of the universe, what Pythagoras called “the music of the spheres”. We read in Psalm 19 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”.
The Haftarah from the Book of Judges also contains a song. The Song of Deborah was written several hundred years after the events detained in Beshalach and was sung at the conclusion of a fierce military campaign against an oppressive ruler. The message contained in these two texts could not be simpler – when we come out of a crisis and give thanks for our safety, we must also remember to sing.
Music has an extraordinary power to evoke emotion. Words are the language of the mind. Music is the language of the soul. In witnessing the miracle at the sea, Israel found a new voice. In the words of Heinrich Heine, “Where words leave off, music begins”.