How does one communicate the beauty of a Kabbalat Shabbat (service for ushering in the Shabbat) sung with deepest of emotions? Is it possible to convey the inspiration felt by a group harmonizing an inspiring nigun (melody)? Assuming not, how should we attempt to comprehend this week's Torah reading which tells us about the incredible song that Moses and the Jewish people sang at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea)?
Even though it is impossible to experience the spiritual heights reached at that time, let us try to understand the nature of song as described by the Torah in this week's Parsha. What inspired the Jewish people to sing?
The ideas that follow are derived from a breathtaking insight of the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moses Sofer- 1762-1839).
Following the long and poetic song that was sung by the men at the Sea, the Torah tells us of a repetition of the same song. Moses' sister Miriam led the women to a separate location for them to sing their own words of praise to Hashem. The verse tells us that she and the women sang only one stanza: "Sing to Hashem for He is greatly exalted. He threw the horse and its rider (the Egyptian army) into the sea.". There are differing opinions among the commentators as to how much of the song Miriam and the women actually sang. Some say that they too sang the entire song even though only one line is recorded. The Torah provided one line with the assumption that their recitation of the remaining verses could be inferred. The Chasam Sofer argues with this approach and, based on his interpretation, provides us with a fundamental understanding of the source of song (shira) and praise in the Torah.
In general, we try to be thankful to Hashem but singing is a different reality. What makes a person sing shira to Hashem? When something truly unique and unexpected happens, the recipient of that "kiss from above" turns to express his appreciation to the Source of those blessings. In theory, since we are the recipients of constant blessings, we should constantly be singing praises. The reason most of us do not is fairly straight forward. We become accustomed to the good bestowed upon us. However, since we all relate to occurrence differently, our praises will also vary. In short, giving thanks as opposed to shira is an expression of the more "natural" blessings of our lives. Song, as in the shira of this week's Parsha, is an outpouring of gratitude for something unexpected and miraculous. Whether we will express our appreciation in the form of shira will depend on how miraculous the event seems to us.
How does this relate to the women singing only one line of the Shira?
In order to answer this question we need two more ideas. First, the greater a person's faith, the smaller the miracle. Any situation can be appreciated but it doesn't necessarily fall into the miracle category and therefore won't be expressed in song. Second, our Sages tell us that the women in Egypt were on a much higher spiritual level than the men. Based on these two ideas, let us get back to the song at the Sea.
If we look carefully at the themes of the shira, we will see two basic concepts. Firstly, the Jewish people, were saved from slavery and oppression. Secondly, the Egyptians were punished for their cruelty towards the Jews. Both of these expressions of Hashem's providence were truly miraculous. But only to the men.
Miriam and the women sang exclusively about the downfall of the Egyptians. Why?
The fact that the Jewish people were saved by the Sea splitting was very special, but the women understood that nature functions in order to assist the Jewish people. If Hashem's people are in dire straights, then the "laws" of nature obviously will be suspended. For the women, the fact that we were saved was not so miraculous and not necessarily a cause for shira. On the other hand, the miracle of the drowning of our enemies was miraculous even for the women. Usually repayment of good and evil is left for the next world. In this glitch in time, we witnessed the downfall and retribution of our enemy.
Conversely, the men sang both for being saved and for our enemies being punished. The fact that both of these occurrences were miraculous to them is a reflection of their lower level. The women didn't feel the need to sing praises for our salvation since it was obvious to them. However, even they sang shira for the unexpected downfall and punishment of the Egytians.
Everything in life should give us reason to express our thanks. The level of song in the Torah reflects something above and beyond the norm. The Sages tell us there is one final shira waiting to be sung by the Jewish people when we will welcome Moshiach with miracles and wonders, May it be very soon.