Posts by Rabbi Mara Young

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shabbat Shirah

For Shabbat Shirah this week, we welcomed Taro Alexander, the founder and director of Our Time to our bimah. The theme of the evening was the redemptive power of song and the freedom to express oneself (inspired by the Song of the Sea).

Below are iyyunim I shared with the congregation:

Miriam's Song (before Mee Khamokha)

Considerable historical and literary evidence indicates that while the Song of the Sea is attributed to “Moses and the people of Israel,” it is very plausible that the song should really be attributed to Miriam. In fact, there are ancient manuscripts that call it the Song of Miriam. The most convincing theory is that songs of military triumph and victory (which the Song of the Sea is) were typically composed and performed by women. Sure enough, immediately after the Song of the Sea, we are told that Miriam picked up a drum and the women sang with her. What did they sing? Incidentally, the first two lines of Shirat Hayam. Plus, this is the part of the Torah where Miriam is first called a prophet. What more evidence of her prophetic voice could we receive than this beautiful piece of poetry?

Amongst us it is not that important for me to highlight Miriam’s role in this holy moment of song. All of us at Woodlands sing loudly and proudly.

But on this
Shabbat, there are female voices being silenced around the globe. I think particularly of Susan G. Komen’s recent strike against Planned Parenthood by withdrawing funding for the 750,000 clinical breast exams the organization does yearly. Well, today, after a barrage of letters, emails, petitions, tweets, and prominent figures speaking out, Komen reversed its decision. By raising our voices, by singing out in the name of women’s rights, a change was made.

The Mee Khamokha, a prayer gleaned from the heart of the Song of the Sea, is a song of Miriam. It is the song of women’s voices worldwide that will not be silenced. In solidarity, we sing it together.

Mr. Ro
dgers (before the Amidah)
I didn’t know until very recently that Mr. Rodgers was more than a TV personality. Turns out that Fred Rodgers – of Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood that is – was a Presbyterian minister and a vegetarian. Who knew?

But then again it seems to explain a lot. Wisdom floated out of him effortlessly. Here’s one example:

“Music is the one art we all have inside. We may not be able to play an instrument, but we can sing along or clap or tap our feet. Have you ever seen a baby bouncing up and down in the crib in time to some music? When you think of it, some of that baby’s first messages from his or her parents may have been lullabies, or at least the music of the speaking voices. All of us had the experience of hearing a tune from childhood and having that melody evoke a memory or a feeling. The music we hear early on tends to say with us all our lives.”

I believe this is the case for synagogue music as well. When we rise for the Amidah, we naturally ease into its familiar chant. Quite the opposite of being rote, chanting with such familiarity roots us in a deep tradition; it plants us in the lullaby of our ancestors. Even if we don’t sing the words, the natural rhythm of the entire congregation chanting may be the thing that moves you.

Miriam (before Silent Prayer)

Midnight gripped the air

As I ran with bundled bread on my back

Sand stung my legs as I hurried toward the water.

Not a word amongst us, just panic in our eyes

as we heard the 600 hundred chariots

whips slapping the hides

like they used to slap on our backs.

All I could offer was a panting breath

A heave of my chest.

When we stood at the sea, still we said nothing

Hands on knees, mouths open, gasping for air –

Gasping for words

But the salt of the waters sucked dry our mouths.

As I looked into the black mirror before me
My lips were silenced but my heart sang.

My faith unwavered, my determination pounding like the blood in my veins

Knowing, knowing it would happen.

And in that moment my heart swelled with words and melodies

Prayers of knowing and blessings of love

With each heavy breath the sea bubbled

It frothed and heaved and it lifted.

As the walls rose higher, my heart grew larger

I was drowning in the miracle.

Dawn warmed the waters from blue to golden orange

The mist on my cheek began to roll off with the heat.

As a new shore firmed under my feet

I ran into the sand and collapsed.

My heart pumped to capacity, it burst within me.

And I sang.

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