Parshas Beshalach - The Essence of Song
by Rabbi Label Lam
What is the essence of song in the Torah?
Writing about a song is a bit like the comedy routine of the mime who
wouldn't stop narrating his own actions, or the great playwrite who, when
asked his intentions in a certain play, replied that if he were capable of
explaining he would not have had to write the play! In pedestrian life we
speak in prose such as "how was your day?", "what's for dinner?" or "there's
a phone call for you!" etc.
When is song expressed? Imagine an individual who has just learned that his
Lotto ticket was the $80,000,000.00 winner. When he calls home to his wife
will he express himself in prose or poetry? Will he say "dear, we won the
Lotto today!"? To this she'll reply "and I made your favorite eggplant
Parmesan for dinner tonight". "It was $80,000,000.00 dear" he'd insist, and
she'd calmly wish him a safe trip home from the office.
Who would imagine that style of dialogue!? More likely he would begin with some
stuttering to hold back the sudden cascade of emotion. At once he would
blurt out almost incomprehensible combinations of words, that could only and
be understood by those who knew the true context. After years of financial
struggle and hardship, the wildest fancy has come true. Those standing
nearby will surely discern that something wondrous has occurred. "dear, it
happened...I can't believe it..80 big ones and it's all ours...all
ours...just what you hoped...just what we dreamed ...and now...now...where
do we begin?..how can we begin to ever?...oh my G-d, I can't believe it
....$80,000,000.00!!" His wife would probably join in echoing some refrain
from his spontaneous burst of original poetry, repeating "where do we
begin?...how do we begin?...ad infinitum...ad absurdium.
What is song? Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch defines it as "an inspired or
rapturous expression of what some external event has revealed to the inner
self, that which the physical eye can not see, but what has become clear to
the mind's eye".
Perhaps this helps to explain why "The Song" of the Jewish nation by the sea
is written in a block form with intermittent open spaces. Sometimes the
silence of what is not said is often more profound than what is actually
expressed. The "bank account" of emotions and ideas is an ocean compared to
the few drops of ink scrawled on the tiny "check". When the inner world of
feelings swells beyond what the mouth can express, the result is
What was the depth of emotion which expressed itself as the Song at the Sea?
What was revealed to the inner-self in the collective soul of the Jewish Nation?
There is a controversy recorded in the Talmud regarding the scriptural book
"Song of Songs", written by King Solomon. There were those who did not want
to include it in the scriptures because its content can be misunderstood.
The book is an analogy of the love between G-d and the Jewish People in
terms of the love between man and woman. The Talmud quotes the great Rabbi
Akiva who spoke in defense of the inherent holiness of King Solomon's "Song
of Songs". He said that all of "the writings" are holy and "Song of Songs"
is the holy of holies.
The Torah is filled with many harsh rebukes and criticisms of the Jewish
people and it's leaders. We are called a "stiff necked" people, and almost
no one, not even Moshe escapes sharp and scathing criticism for a seemingly
slight error. One might wrongly conclude, that somehow we are the
least-favored nation in the A-lmighty's world. King David reminds us in his
book of Psalms: "Praiseworthy is the man whom G-d disciplines etc." The
superficial appearance is that the one who is haunted with difficulty and
criticism is despised. That is the superficial mask. What is the heart of
the matter, however? The Song of Songs tells us that an intense love exists
deep down. The caring teacher drives the promising student to fulfill his or
her potential. Loving parents correct their child's imperfections for the
sake of the child. More love is contained on the inside than can ever be
understood by those who do not see the true context."Song of Songs" is the
expression of the inner world of feelings between G-d and the Jews. It is
the world behind the mask. That is what makes it "Holy of Holies".
The Jewish nation stood by the Sea of Reeds in the surprising repose of
safety, only a short time earlier escaping for dear life. They expressed in
exalted song their clearest cognition that the pain and suffering of the
Egyptian exile was truly not punitive, but in fact, rehabilitative. The
dawning recognition of divine love instantly eclipsed 210 years of physical
and spiritual privation. This resulted in spontaneous song. This is the
essence of the song in the heart of hearts of the Torah!
We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of this week's Dvar Torah by
Rabbi Label Lam, of FOUNDATIONS for Jewish Learning
Monsey, N.Y. 10952 Phone: 914-352-0111 or 800-700-9577. Fax-914-352-0305,
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Label Lam and
Project Genesis, Inc.