Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 50

Sing a New Song Unto God!

January 29, 2021

Dear Holy Friends,

How about this cold weather?!? Honestly, it makes me feel like I am back in Canada. I trust that you are all staying warm, and more importantly, remaining safe and in good health.

Growing up, I always had an avid interest in music, which was fueled, in part, by the high artistic standards that were intrinsic to my home synagogue. Each Shabbat we would “daven” by listening to great cantors, who were accompanied by sophisticated choral performers. In my teens, I participated in the synagogue choir and looked forward each week to our Thursday night rehearsals, which were followed by cake and cookies (what could be bad?!?).

Additionally, my interests in music evolved as I began to play music. In grade school, my classmates and I were taught how to play the recorder and then in middle school I learned to play the violin. Years later, I learned to play the guitar. Furthermore, I also made time to study classical piano, learning the music of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. To this day, I relish finding the time to play for my own personal enjoyment.

Speaking of music, this Shabbat we read from the portion of BeShallach, and celebrate the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. In fact, tonight is referred to as Shabbat Shira, “The Shabbat of Song,” and there is a custom to antiphonally recall this deliverance by chanting Moses’ famous song to the people (Exodus 15).

An obscure section of the Midrash in Mechilta de Rabbi Ishmael is called the Shirata. The text suggests that there were in fact ten biblical occasions during which the Jewish people joined collectively in song. The list of songs sung on those occasions include not only the Song of the Sea, as referenced above, but also the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), Moses’ last speech/song (Deuteronomy 31), and King David’s song during the dedication of the Temple (Psalms 30).

As our tradition evolves, I would like to amend this list and submit an eleventh collective and important communal song.

Over the last few months, we have sung together many times from the now holy “Book of Zoom!” Each Shabbat, we are encouraged to join in uplifting song (granted, while often muted), under the guidance of our fantastic Cantor, Paul Zim. It is always uplifting to me to see everyone on Zoom daven and even though we may not be able to hear each other throughout the service, we do get to join in congregational singing, at least virtually.

As the Psalmist writes, Sing a New Song Unto God!

May this Shabbat and each coming week offer us the opportunity to share our own unique voices and spirits in a manner pleasing to both God and each other.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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