Light from the Sidra

Pesach VII (‘Passover 7’). 29th April 2016. 21st Nisan 5776.

Torah: Exodus 13:17–15. Haftarah: Numbers 28:19–25; 2 Samuel 22:1-51

Now that's what I call Music!

I was twelve years old when I discovered my vocal limitations. Mr Linton the music master was running compulsory auditions for the school choir and called us out three by three to sing while he played the piano. If we didn’t meet his expectations, we were informed he would tap us on the shoulder, indicating that we were to return to our seats. I watched as Mr Linton leaned in the direction of each of the boys who had been called up and I smirked smugly whenever a boy he didn’t consider to be choir material was tapped gently on the shoulder. When I took my place and let out the first note of The Ballad of Barbara Ellen, the slight, somewhat effeminate Mr Linton hit me in the chest with such force that I staggered backward and fell over the first row of chairs!

Since then, I don’t even sing in the shower although I can be persuaded to join in with ‘Happy Birthday To You’ because no one seems to mind that although I hit a few of the right notes. We sing at birthdays, weddings and funerals, and every year in London’s Royal Albert Hall thousands belt out ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Last Night of the Proms. We sing on such occasions because we feel that what we are singing has some significance.

In the Bible, God’s people celebrated their great deliverances by singing. After the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites sang:

I will sing to YHWH,
For he has triumphed, yes, triumphed,
The horse and its charioteer he flung into the sea!
My fierce-might and strength is YAH,
He has become deliverance for me.
This is my God—I honour him.
The God of my father—I exalt him.

(Exodus 15:1-3, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation with Introductions, Commentary and Notes by Everett Fox)

In the Haftarah, David addresses the words of his song to HASHEM, after HASHEM had saved him from the hands of all his enemies …

O LORD, my crag, my fastness, my deliverer!
O God, the rock wherein I take shelter:
My shield, my mighty champion, my fortress and refuge!
My saviour, You who rescue me from violence!
All praise! I called on the LORD,
And I was delivered from my enemies!

(2 Samuel 22:2-4, Tanakh – The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text)

There are some remarkable similarities between the song of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea and David’s final psalm. Both exalt Israel’s God and express thanks to him for his salvation. In 2 Samuel 22 David, one of history’s greatest warrior kings, composes a song that sums up his life. However, it is no Sinatra-esque boast about having done things ‘my way’. Apart from the shameful episode of Bathsheba, David lived his life God’s way and in Psalm 51 he expresses shame and remorse for his sin. His autobiographical swan song in 2 Samuel 22 is full of praise to the faithful God who has saved him from all his enemies.

The Jewish people today have much reason to be thankful to HASHEM. The story of the modern state of Israel is a tale of survival against all the odds. The establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 and its triumph over larger and better armed forces determined to drive them into the sea was remarkable in the extreme, while Israel’s June 1967 victory over forces bigger and better armed than themselves in less than six days remains unparalleled in the annals of military history. The Israeli victory over their enemies in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 was astonishing, and the nation’s numerous contributions to science, medicine and technology while under a perpetual state of virtual siege is unique.

Israel has reason to sing of what God has done for them in the past and what he is doing for them in the present. But what of the future?

The days after he was inducted as the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks stated on BBC Radio that Israel has survived because the last chapter of history has not yet been written. Much as I admire Lord Sacks as a moral philosopher, on this he was wrong. Israel survives precisely because the last chapter has been written!

I can’t resist quoting a song from the vision of Yochanan, a close friend of Jesus, which is recorded in the last book of the New Testament. In his vision Yochanan, sees thousands of Jewish martyrs singing ‘the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb’:

Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.

In his vision, Yochanan also sees Jews and Gentiles from all nations worshipping HASHEM and the Messiah, singing a very Jewish song of redemption:

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’

Now that’s what I call a song! Whether you are Jewish or Gentile, you need to learn to sing this song because none who sing will ever be ashamed, whatever their vocal ability or lack of it. Not even me!

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