The Endless Movements of the Torah
Music expresses human feelings to the highest degree. Its notes, stoppages and new beginnings fill the soul with endless emotion. If you were to attend a Mozart or Beethoven concert, you would likely be swayed by the pulse and emanating poetic ballads that supersede time and place.
Nonetheless, as penetrating as these concerts might be, their compositions and notes fall short in comparison to another composition: the Torah.
The Torah is one long song with notes of grandeur containing multiple meanings, in the form of letters, breaks and continuations. The Torah’s mode of writing communicates profound messages and establishes exact mood and context.
There’s no greater parsha than Beshalach to illustrate the beauty of the Torah’s composition. First, we will explore a detailed word switch in two verses complemented by a kri uchtiv. Second, examine the potential of a past, present and future tense relating to one word. Lastly, we will look to what the Torah itself stands for – shirah – and see how it’s written in the parsha’s text.
Let’s examine the first ballad in the parsha. The Kli Yakar offers an extraordinary explanation to a word switch in a phrase that’s further bolstered by a small word alteration that speaks to the majestic tunes and rhythms of the Torah. When approaching yam suf, the first phrase of the Torah is that the Jews went betoch hayam, bayabasha. Later on, when depicting the same scene, the verse says that the Jews entered first bayabasha and then betoch hayam. The Kli Yakar extrapolates that the first occurrence referred to those Jews who went straight into the sea out of pure faith. They didn’t wait to see the dry land but relied on their faith to know that they must take the first step and G-d will take care of the rest. The second depiction refers to those Jews who waited for a dry path before willing to enter the sea on pure faith that it will split. The kri uchtiv accompanying these verses, speaks to this difference in phenomenal fashion. By those who entered the sea itself, the verse says that the walls were a chomah, with a vav, for them. Their faith engendered G-d to protect them as His own, as if with sturdy walls. However, in the verse where the Jews waited to see dry land first, the word chomah is missing the letter vav, which then spells chemah, anger. G-d was angry with this group who didn’t have pure belief to enter the sea before they saw dry land. Evident is a striking concordance of the verses intent and word compositions speaking to the unity, pace and tempo of the Torah that’s so cloaked in consistent melodies.
The second ballad to be examined relates to the tense of a word. Many of the commentators are bothered by the fact that the shirat hayam is introduced with the word yashir in the future tense and not shar in the past tense. Rashi, the Ramban and the Ohr HaChaim all present wonderful hymns to address this issue. Rashi simply says that yashir means that Moshe first looked to his heart and then sang. How much simpler can the logic of this explanation be. The heart and song are forever intertwined as emotions and feelings are needed to stir breakouts into song. The Ramban says that in the area of song, one can always place themselves in a different context, whether it be the past, present or future. There’s no absolute in these circumstances. The beauty of this explanation further speaks to the essence of song which is ethereal and rises above time and place. The Ohr HaChaim, in grand fashion, says that the “future” tense is welcoming every Jew in the future to sing G-d’s praises for anything fantastic that occurs to them. Who doesn’t have those times in life when they want to sing to G-d and open their hearts with more than words?
The final act illustrating the symphonic nature of the Torah comes by way of how the song itself, the shirat hayam, is written. How Beethoven and Mozart would have yearned to learn the notes of composition from the Torah! The shirah is written in blocks with large spaces in between the verses. Rav Ahoron Soloveitchik zt”l so beautifully explains that often words are limited in capturing the vast emotions that a person wants to articulate. Words can be limiting in scope to release the feelings of the heart and soul. And for that exact reason the shirah is written with spaces to illustrate that song goes beyond the words on the page. It is a gap of celebration that affords the ability to communicate with G-d in the highest order. Not only was this the assumed nature of the Jews song at that moment, as they saw the miraculous hand of G-d, but it’s the Torah’s wonderful composition in capturing the nature of music.
Music and the Torah is one in the same. The Torah is a compilation of music that speaks to every person individually on their own level. Sometimes it must be in a straightforward way, sometimes communicated with greater profundity, sometimes with no gaps while other times with small gaps. But one who reads the corpus of the Torah from cover to cover must be enamored with the depths inherent in every letter, the meanings behind every word and the compositional genius by which it’s written.