Monday, January 21, 2013

Singing in the Face of Fear

Parshat B’shalach (Shabbat Shira)
Exodus 13:17-17:16
15 Shevat 5773 / Jan. 25 – 26, 2013
Singing in the Face of Fear
by Ariel Root Wolpe (MH East Bay)

Parshat B'Shalach is filled with miracles. Pillars of cloud and fire guide the Isrealites from Egypt; the Sea of Reeds splits to reveal dry ground; mana appears on the desert floor; water becomes sweet from a tree and springs from a rock when Moses strikes it. Amongst all these miracles, the image of the Israelites singing after they cross the sea gives the parsha its second name, “Shabbat Shira.” Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto Hashem, and spoke, saying: I will sing unto Hashem, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. (Exodus 15:1)

The lines of the song are beautiful and poetic, although the celebration over death quite disturbing. The parsha says that as the Hebrews saw the Egyptians dying, they feared God, va’aminu ba’adonai. After witnessing so many miracles, and one that results in drowning an army, who would not be afraid of such a powerful source? Even though these miracles protect the Hebrews and bring them freedom, we know it will not always be so.

In our daily lives, and in the wider world, we face awful and joyful events that we struggle to explain, that remind us how uncertain our personal and collective future is and how little we actually control.  It is not difficult to fear the forces that turn the days and change us. There are passages in the Torah that encourage a cowering awe of God, but I think it is telling that when the Israelites are faced with their fear, everyone’s immediate reaction is to sing, God is my strength and song. This teaches that everything we witness can also be our strength. We need only take the horrible and the beautiful and pour it into the song of our story.

What better way to realize our own power, to feel the safety of unity, than communally quench our fear with celebratory song?


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