Written by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Co-Director of Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) at UCLA
This week’s Shabbat has a second name, Shabbat Shirah (“The Sabbath of Song”). The reason for this name is that in this week’s Torah portion, Be’Shalach, we read about the epic end to the slavery in Egypt, culminating with the splitting of the sea. Immediately after the scintillating experience of the splitting of the sea, the Torah (Exodus 15) records that Moses lead the entire Jewish people in spontaneous song to God. This song has become so famous and beloved that the custom developed to chant it daily as part of the preliminary devotion. One who would enter the synagogue on any day, and certainly on this Shabbat, appreciates that the Song at the Sea is a true testament to the deeply emotional relationship between the Jews and God.
However, as astonishing as this may sound, the Jerusalem Talmud (Shekalim 2a) actually says that the beginning of the song is not as good as it should have been. The Talmud makes this point with a very careful read of the opening verse of this song: “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spoke, saying…” The Talmud says that the Jewish people should not have needed Moses’s prodding, rather, they should have on their own began to sing to God.
Based on this understanding of the Talmud, I believe it is possible to give a second understanding to the name of this week’s Shabbat. It is not only “Shabbat of Song” simply for the ancient Song at the Sea; rather, it is named the Shabbat of Song as a yearly reminder that we should not have to wait for others to point out great things in our lives that need to be sung about. It is a reminder to be constantly recognizing the great things in our lives and singing about them.
Shabbat Shirah Shalom!
This article is part of Ha’Am’s Friday Taste of Torah column. Each week, a different UCLA community member will contribute some words of Jewish wisdom in preparation for Shabbat.