The miracle at the Re(e)d Sea was expressed through song: the song sung by Moses
and the Children of Israel and the song sung by Miriam with all of the women,
amid drumming and dancing.
The miracle of the revelation at Sinai was
expressed through words: “And Moses descended to the nation and he said unto
them, ‘And God spoke all these words, saying...’” (Exodus 19:25,
Song and music enter the heart and soul, whereas speech and words
speak to the mind, the brain. Song and music create emotions, feelings; while
speech and words create understanding and cognition. Song and music develop
spirituality and faith; speech and words develop intellect and knowledge. Song
and music lead to the wisdom of the heart; speech and words lead to the wisdom
of the mind.
Song and music produce religious prophets; speech and words
produce learned sages. Song and music can touch every individual deeply and
profoundly. Speech and words can only move those with an intellectual background
and innate ability.
Song and music reach out to all – as a group
experience, inclusive, with everyone joining in. Speech and words – meant for
one who understands – are a teaching experience, an exclusive experience in
which the most learned dominate.
Hence, Moses sings at the Red Sea, but
it is a song-speech; Moses is a master of words and speech, not of music and
song. Hence, our Sages delay the timing of his song to the Messianic Age. Only
then, “Moses will truly sing” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 91b). Now, at the Red Sea,
Moses speak-sings and he, the teacher, speaks alone, after which everyone
repeats the lesson in unison.
“Moses and the children of Israel after
But Miriam sings with the beat of the drums. She responds to the
miracle together with, and at the same time as, all the other women, in the
united group experience of ecstatic joy. “And Miriam responded along with them,
‘Sing all of you unto the Lord...’” Song and music lead to movement, dance and
human embrace. Words and speech lead to meditation, books and authoritative
judgments. Song and music lead to the drum of the rhythmic
Words and speech lead to the staff of the ruler and judge.
Hence, Moses left a legacy of a Book of Books and a Code of Laws and
Commandments, while Miriam left a legacy of a well from which poured living
spring waters of regeneration and rebirth.
And as the sea is song-speech,
the mountain is the speech-song. The entire nation saw the sounds of Sinai; they
saw the words, they saw the cantillations and the musical notes, they heard the
music within the commandments and they felt the love within the laws.
STORY is told that at a bitterly cold seuda shlishit (third meal of Shabbat),
the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) was sitting with his
hassidim when he instructed his beadle to go outside into the snow and bring in
a teenage boy who seemed to be looking and listening through the icy windowpane.
“But he is only a young Russian peasant,” said the beadle. “He is a Yiddishe
neshama [Jewish soul],” the rebbe replied.
The young man was seated next
to the rebbe. When the rebbe asked him who he was and where he came from, the
boy explained that his Russian-Christian parents had found him one morning on
They had brought him up as their son and taken him to
church every Sunday – but he had always felt drawn, as if by a magnet, to Jews
and Judaism. “You were left by Jewish parents escaping a pogrom; you are a Jew
with a Yiddishe neshama,” explained the rebbe.
The rebbe began to speak
words of Torah, transporting his hassidim to exalted, supernal heights. “Do you
understand?” he asked the boy in Russian. “No, I don’t understand,” the boy
replied. The rebbe began to give an involved analogy, a story within a story
within a story. “Do you understand now?” he asked. “No, I don’t understand,” the
confused boy replied. Whereupon the rebbe began to sing a nigun – a tune without
words. He sang, his hassidim sang, he clapped his hands and his hassidim clapped
And then they all rose, clasped hands, linked arms and
danced rapturously around the holy ark. And the boy also sang, danced and
clapped his hands. With tears streaming down his face, he cried out, “Now I
understand, I understand everything, the Torah and the analogy too!” We must
join the staff of Moses to the drums of Miriam, the song-speech of the sea to
the speech-song of the mountain, the lovingkindness of Miriam’s well to the laws
of Moses. Moses’s commandments, the wisdom of the heart, must be joined to the
hermeneutic interpretations of the mind. Then everyone will understand
Shabbat Shira shalom
The writer is the founder and chancellor
of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs and chief rabbi of Efrat.