Reading Between the Lines
Shabbat Shira, the shabbat of song. For many it feels like every Shabbat is a Shabbat of song. Each Shabbat we have the beautiful melodies of Kabbalat Shabbat, the Friday night service and the extended Shacharit, the morning service on Shabbat morning. But this week’s Shabbat has the distinction of being referred to as Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of song. This week is parshat B’shallach, when we read Shirat Hayam, the Song of Sea that Moses and the Israelites sang after successfully navigating across the Red Sea and escaping the Egyptians for good.
A colleague of mine, Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky, introduced me to a short piece about sacred music by Rabbi Marc Angel. In it Rabbi Angel writes,
“While in Jerusalem many years ago, I met a wise, humble man who was something of a mystic.
In one of our conversations, he told me: There are three kinds of music. The first kind has melody and words. This is the usual song, easily understood, easy to remember. The second kind has melody, but no words. This is more profound. It has a definite rhythm, but cannot express itself in words, since it is too deep for words. The third kind has neither melody nor words. This is the deepest music, the music of the soul. It is so very deep and so very silent, that it goes to the very core of our being. When we have experienced this third kind of music, we have come close to God.”
The Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea, has this third type of music. If you look at the way the Song of the Sea is written in the Torah, and the way it is often duplicated in the Chumash, the Bible, you will see that is written unlike any other part of the Torah. In between phrases there are large gaps. An example can be seen here:
In between the words and phrases that have an ancient traditional melody that we use to chant them, there are these blank spaces. The Torah seems to be going out of its way to present us with these spaces that represent music without words or melody. What were the Israelites thinking as they sang the music without the words and melody? What were they thinking as they witnessed the Red Sea collapsing down on their enemies and the hope of their true freedom was at hand? These pauses in the text give us a chance to try and imagine what the Israelites were thinking. It was their music without words and without melody. It was their quiet thoughts and contemplations as they chanted the words of the song.
Have you experienced moments in your life where you sensed the silence between the notes of a song or melody? How do you experience those pauses, the empty spaces between the words and melody? Sometimes we learn and feel more by what not said, than what is said.
Wishing everyone a melodious Shabbat.
Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel has been Midbar
Kodesh Temple's spiritual leader
since August 2008. Rabbi Tecktiel was
ordained at the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America in May of 1996. He
holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees, one
from List College and one from Columbia
University. He also holds a Masters of Arts
from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
You can follow him on Twitter @RabbiMKT.