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Shabbat Shira: A Celebration of Jewish Song and Jewish Women

By Hazzan Michael Krausman

One of the most exciting elements of our annual cycle of Torah reading is the joyous Song of the Sea or, Shirat Ha Yam. Found within the weekly portion of B’Shalach, which recounts the movements of the newly freed Israelites as they begin to make their way to the Promised Land, the Shirat Ha Yam occurs immediately following the dramatic crossing of the Red Sea. The Song includes an account of how Miriam, Moses’ sister, leads the people in dance celebrating the successful crossing and the vanquishing of Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Overflowing with ecstasy and gratitude, the children of Israel instinctively turn to song to express their deep emotions. Interestingly, the Song of the Sea is the first recorded prayer that simply praises God out of pure joy, rather than asking for a particular Blessing or favor.

Shirat Ha Yam is documented in the Torah in a unique poetic language and style. The power of this hymn struck the framers of our liturgy so much that this ancient prayer is repeated each day in our morning service and portions of it, such as Mi Chamocha: “Who is like unto thee O Lord?,” are found in both the evening and morning prayers. In fact, it serves as the paradigmatic example of God’s saving power.

The Shabbat on which the weekly portion of B’Shalach is read is known as Shabbat Shira – the Sabbath of Song. This year, Shabbat Shira will occur on January 23, 2016. Shirat Ha Yam is chanted on Shabbat Shira by interspersing the beautifully majestic cantillation of the Song of Songs with the regular Torah cantillation melody.

Shirat Ha Yam is not the only special song recited on Shabbat Shira. The Haftara contains the song of Deborah which describes how the heroine Yael saves the Hebrews from the mighty despot Sisera. (Spoiler Alert!) Yael invites the mighty warrior in to her home for a meal and ends up slaying him with a tent pin! You will have to come to services to get the whole story.

Shabbat Shira is a time to reflect on the important role that music and song plays in our lives as Jews. It is also vital that Jewish music be used to enhance the atmosphere of our homes. Not only is music the best mechanism for expressing our deepest emotions, but it is the vehicle which transports prayers from our hearts to the gates of heaven. In fact in some instances such as Kol Nidre, the significance of the music exceeds that of the text. From Yiddish lullabies to Ladino love songs to the modern sounds of Israeli rock and roll, Jewish music is an integral part of the Jewish soul. Thus it is fitting that Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat on which we read one of the earliest and most striking incidents of musical expression, be dedicated to Jewish music.

Due to the inspiration of the powerful biblical heroines about whom we read on Shabbat Shira, this Shabbat is also dedicated to celebrating the invaluable contribution our Sisterhood and all women make to our Beth El community. Celebrate with us when our wonderful Sisterhood will be leading the service, reading the Torah and teaching on this special Shabbat.

Please come and pray with us on Shabbat Shira, January 23, 2016, as our dedicated and vigorous sisterhood leads us in a celebration of these most vital aspects of Jewish life: Jewish Song and Jewish women.