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Musical Midrash for Parashat Beshalach

Imagine with me:

Your feet– battered from the journey up out of Egypt.

Scraped and calloused. Sinking into the sand.

Your back— heavy from the weight that is visible: your meager belongings.

Heavy from the child you carry, or the small bag with the treasures you secreted away on your way out.

Your back— heavy from the weight that is invisible: the years of servitude.

The truly unbelievable events of these last weeks: the locusts, the frogs, the inky darkness. And then, last night. Marking your home. Slashing the blood of that lamb across the lintel: hoping, praying, maybe even believing that God would keep you safe.

Your heart— hopeful and hopeless, worn down and light at the same time.

God has not left you and your people.


לֹֽא־יָמִ֞ישׁ עַמּ֤וּד הֶֽעָנָן֙ יוֹמָ֔ם וְעַמּ֥וּד הָאֵ֖שׁ לָ֑יְלָה

(Ex. 13:22)

That pillar of cloud by day, and pillar of fire by night did not depart you.


And then— that feeling of fear, like icy water running through your veins creeps in: you hear the hoofbeats first.


Pharoah.


Of course it wouldn’t be so easy to leave. It couldn’t have been. You knew it. Maybe you never should have left. This was a terrible idea. You turn to Moses—- “what? There weren’t enough graves in Egypt? You needed to bring us out to this wilderness to die? (Ex. 14:11)




But Moses— there’s something different about him now. He has a peace about him, a sense of calm: it’s as though God is reassuring him.


אַל־תִּירָ֒אוּ֒

(Ex. 14:13)

Have no fear, he says!


Fear is all it feels like we have.


And yet— as you watch Moses hold his arm out over the sea, it feels like you are watching the hand of God. The wind blows, and it sounds to you like a song, reminding you over and over again, that the most important thing right now, is not to be afraid.





There is no other way to go than forward.

You see Nachshon ben Aminadav take that brave first step, and then, others begin to follow.

And so, you start walking.

Slowly.

One foot in front of the other.


It’s like a rebirth: through the narrow passage between those two walls of water, you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known, as you walk toward one that you can only begin to imagine.



This becomes a mantra. You don’t have to carry the weight of the world in your muscles and bones. There is a better way: a promised land.



And yet, you turn around for one last look.


… וַיַּ֤רְא יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־מִצְרַ֔יִם מֵ֖ת עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיָּֽם׃


(And you see) the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. (Ex. 14:30)


There is so much death behind you.

You walk and you pray.

You pray and you walk

Let there be life ahead for me.

For my children.

For my parents and my brothers and sisters.

Let there be life.

Let there be life.

Let there be life.

Let there be life.



The invisible weight on your backs feels less lighter.

The path stays clear and dry.

The mantra becomes a rhythm like a drumbeat, and it feels as though all of Israel is walking to the beat. The energy shifts.


אָ֣ז יָשִֽׁיר־מֹשֶׁה֩ וּבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה

(Ex. 15:1)


The rhythm turns into a song. Moses begins to sing. All of you— all of Israel joins him in singing this song.



Ashira L’Adonai (Debbie Friedman)


The energy is infectious.

Your whole life– you have never won anything. This feels triumphant.

Born a slave, you truly believed that is how you would live out your days.


אָשִׁ֤ירָה לַֽיהֹוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה

(Ex. 15:1)

But God! You sing out to God in triumph— in glorious triumph and gratitude and once you begin to sing, it’s like you can’t stop. The music pours out of you.


click here to listen: Ozi v’Zimrat Yah (Shefa Gold)



My strength is my song, and my salvation from God. You see Miriam and the women gravitating to one another—

Amidst this erev rav this mixed multitude of humanity, you see the women: the imas and the savtas, the daughters and sisters taking out beautiful musical instruments.

They dance and sing.


They sing with voices so powerful, they sound like they come from another world.

These are warrior sisters:




שִׁ֤ירוּ לַֽיהֹוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה

(pause) ס֥וּס וְרֹכְב֖וֹ רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם

׃

(Ex. 15:31)


Sing to יהוה, for God has triumphed gloriously! (Pause)

Horse and driver, God has hurled into the sea.


Suddenly: you realize what has happened.

We don’t rejoice at the death of God’s creation.

The gravity of this moment settles in.

You have survived.

You have made it to safety.

The danger you have faced is behind you.


And so you sing out ancient words of blessing:



Grateful, grateful, grateful.

That’s why we sing.


For fears faced.

For prayers answered: let there be life.

For worthy traveling companions on this journey toward freedom.





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