Parashat Be- Shalah 5769/ February 7, 2009
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Music and The Song at the Sea
Dr. Rachel Kolander
Department of Music
The Hebrew word shirah
has three meanings: 1) poetic writing,
often incorporating rhyme and having a specific, known meter; 2) musical vocal
production, combining acoustic parameters and textual meaning; 3) instrumental
musical production. When the Red Sea was
parted it appears that all three meanings of the word –words, voice, and
instruments – came together as one, to express the inner joy, spiritual elation,
and divine revelation experienced by each and every person who came out of
From the day the
Holy One, blessed be He, created the world until the day the Israelites stood
on the shore of the
In sum, the Song on the Sea included words, written in the arrangement called "a tile over a brick,” that can be seen in the traditional calligraphy of this poem in Torah scrolls; its rendition in song under the leadership of Moses; and the incorporation of musical instruments held by the women and led by Miriam. Many interpretations have been given through the centuries as to the musical rendition of the Song on the Sea. Although we do not know the melody or the rhythm of this song, it was clearly a responsory, that is, a rendition involving a solo and a chorus.
According to one view, Moses recited one
verse and the Israelites responded with a refrain consisting of the first part
of the verse: Moses:
“I will sing to the Lord,”
According to another view, Moses recited a
line, and the people repeated the same words:
Moses: “For He has triumphed
In both of the above methods, there is an immediate interplay between the leader and the assembly, with a soloist leading the progress in the text.
3) Another possible rendition is completion of the verses, with Moses beginning the first few words and the Israelites answering with the rest of the verse, throughout the entire song: Moses (in Ex.15:3): “The Lord, the warrior”, Israel (idem): “Lord is His name!.” Obviously in such a rendition the assembly of Israelites must have been familiar with the text; therefore it is clear that the song was sung in a state of spiritual elation, with divine inspiration being shared by all, since they knew the words of the song and did not need to follow Moses’ lead.
Another possibility is that everyone reached
a prophetic state, and according to this view first Moses sang the entire song,
and then everyone answered, singing the entire song together, as if it were
coming out of a single mouth, the people remembering both the words and the
melody. Of course this in itself is miraculous,
aside from the miraculous event of the splitting of the
In all four possible
renditions of the Song on the Sea the women joined in, playing instruments and
dancing. The Zohar describes Moses’ mother
Jochebed singing the Song on the Sea, day in and day out,
in one of the chambers of the Garden of Eden, along with other righteous women
who were there with her, and all the righteous men listening to the song.
is portrayed adopting the rendition that she saw Moses giving:
“Miriam saw and began to chant and sing
before the Holy One, blessed be He, and all the women followed her lead.”
At the splitting of the
So we see that song, the melody that is considered loftier than the words or the poem,  combined with instrumental accompaniment and dance  in order to enhance the praise of the Creator for His miracles. All who are fortunate to raise their voice in song in this world, are blessed with the good fortune of singing also in the World to Come.
 Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 30b.
 With regard to Parashat be-Shalah and also with regard to the Song of Deborah, Judges, ch. 5.
 Zohar on Parashat B-Shalah.
 Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, Higger ed., p. 223.
 According to the commentaries on Rokeah’s prayer book, Herschler Edition, 1992 (Part I.37, p. 213), not only the women brought musical instruments along: “Before leaving Egypt Moses instructed the people to prepare instruments for song, and said: Realize that you are destined to sing a song of praise, so prepare instruments of song to take out with you.”
Kihan, Ha-Musica be-
 As in the stories of Jepthah, Samuel, Saul and David.
 Y. Kihan, ibid., pp. 65-67; Y. Shalita, Ha-Musica ha-Yehudit ve-Yotzreha, Tel Aviv 1960, pp. 9-27.
 D. Sandler, Pirkei ha-Musica be-Sefer Shiltei ha- Gibborim le-Avraham Misha'ar Arye, Doctoral Dissertaion, Tel Aviv University 1980, p. 35.
 In his commentary on Daniel 3:5. Also in several places in his commentary on Psalms.
 Malbim’s commentary on Judges 5:3.
 Y. Hutner, Maamarei Pahad Yitzhak: Sukkot, Jerusalem 2002, p. 37, article 16: “The idea of dancing is to coordinate bodily motions with the voice."