Last week my husband and I went to hear the Be’er Sheva orchestra play in the Jerusalem Theater as a guest orchestra. They played Beethoven’s 7th symphony which is one of the most complex and important pieces Beethoven composed. The conductor took the stage and after their first warm up piece he did something uncharacteristic of a conductor. He went off stage got a microphone and began to explain his thoughts about clapping after the conclusion of a part of the symphony. Usually, the protocol is to wait for the entire piece to finish, regardless of how many sections there are to the piece. Addressing the theater he explained that he believed that Beethoven himself anticipated a reaction between the parts of a symphony and it was only natural to applaud if the crowd was moved to do so. He also went on to say that Beethoven once received such a resounding amount of applause after the conclusion of one of the parts of his symphony he actually played it twice. The conductor passionately described that this form of “inspired applause” is the sign of the music doing its job, moving its audience to express its excitement. Being moved to applaud or even dance shows the power of music to move us both physically and emotionally, and even spiritually.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes the relationship between music, song, and Judaism. He writes:
Song is central to the Judaic experience. We do not pray; we daven, meaning we sing the words we direct toward Heaven. Nor do we read the Torah. Instead we chant it, each word with its own cantillation. Even rabbinical texts are never merely studies; we chant them with the particular sing-song known to all students of Talmud. Each time and text has its specific melodies. The same prayer may be sung to half-a-dozen different tunes depending on whether it is part of the morning, afternoon, or evening service, and whether the day is a weekday, a Sabbath, a festival, or one of the High Holy Days. There are different cantillations for biblical readings, depending on whether the text comes from Torah, the prophets, or the Ketuvim, ‘the writings’. Music is the map of the Jewish spirit, and each spiritual experience has its own distinctive melodic landscape. – Rabbi Sacks Covenant and Coversation; Parshat Vayelech: ‘Torah as a Song’
In Parshat Beshalach we find Am Yisrael in one of the most dramatic scenes of Tanakh. As recently freed slaves who are tasting freedom, they follow Moshe with faith and devotion. As they journey onward they face a dead-end. Standing in front of a mighty sea they turn backwards and see the Egyptians heading towards them, ready to take them back to slavery or worst yet kill them. The situation seems impossible and then perhaps one of the greatest miracles of all time takes place, the splitting of the sea. Am Yisrael have a pathway to safety and freedom. They continue forward in awe and deep appreciation to G-d. They are moved to express themselves through song. Moshe begins to sing the people follow, Miriam takes lead as well and the women begin to sing and dance.
The human spirit is moved to transcend an experience, and song and dance is what emerges.
Miriam HaNeviah takes her drum and begins to sing with the women. Rashi notes:
The righteous women in that generation were confident that God would perform miracles for them and they accordingly had brought timbrels with them from Egypt (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 15:20:2).
The women were prepared. They knew that they would experience something that would inspire songs of thanks to Hakadosh Baruch Hu so they brought their instruments with them. They erupted with song and dance, and expressed their deepest feelings of gratitude to G-d for saving them.
Currently here in Israel, Am Yisrael is hurting and experiencing dark times. It is easy to fall into despair and give up hope. Yet we look to our ancestors who also faced dark and desperate moments. Ma’aseh Avot Siman L’banim, Chazal teach us- our ancestors have paved a way and lead by example. We must be ready for “inspired applause” in our day just as they were ready to sing and dance at the salvation they had anticipated. We must also anticipate the geulah no matter how dark it may appear, mustering our strength to keep moving forward. Extending our hands to our brothers and sisters and embracing them. The music will emerge from our lips together. Prepared, we will take out our instruments and/or start applauding with our hands. We will sing songs to Hakadosh Baruch Hu thanking Him for yet again coming to our rescue. “Inspired applause” and singing will result as the only befitting expression of what is yet to come. Here today we wait ready to burst into song and dance once again!