Into The Waters of Faith and Joy

“The panda eats shoots and leaves.” “The panda eats, shoots, and leaves.” “The panda eats shoots, and leaves.”  Meaning is changed by the modifications in grammatical punctuation.  So too, context and juxtaposition of sentences alters our understanding of what we read.  How and in what sequence we join words, phrases and paragraphs set up a specific basis of expectations and interpretations.

“And when Israel saw the wondrous power which the Eternal had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared God; they had faith in the Holy One and in God’s servant Moses.  Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Holy One.” [Exodus 14:31-15:1].

More often than not, we don’t connect these verses, even though they are subsequent to one another. That is, we conceptually finish chapter 14 with verse 31, and then turn to chapter 15 with a fresh pair of eyes. More so in this particular chapter change because we read this very special section, Shirat Hayam – the ‘Song of the Sea’ as a stand-alone slice of Torah in our daily prayers and on certain holidays, represents a transcendent moment of transformation for our people.

Reading these two sentences sequentially and connected rather than with the natural pause of a chapter change sheds light on the connection between fear, faith and song.  Rav Kalonimos Kalman, an 18th Century Chasidic master, reminds us that in the Chasidic tradition, song arises from joy – one who is joyful sings and offers praise.  One who is fearful and full of dread cannot offer song.  At the moment by the sea, the Israelites were full of fear, as our text tells us above.  Yet, he posits that they yearned for a time in the future that they would in fact feel joy.  I believe that experience, the yearning for something deeper in our lives is the definition of faith. Therefore, he continues that by virtue of that faith, the Israelites merited the joy they desired in the future, and God enables them to attain their future in the present – they are thus able to sing and affirm God’s presence in their lives, even in the midst of their fear and dread!

The connection between joy and song goes very deep in the human experience.  Think about singing your heart out in the shower, or when you find yourself humming a tune– it is most likely an expression of how you are experiencing the world in that moment; it is not about the quality of your singing per se, but about the source of the underlying emotional phenomenon.  The physicality of raising and opening one’s own voice, of “bursting out in song” is an expression of pure joy and love.

“….They had faith in God…….that then they would sing…..”  Reading these two verses as connected beautifully reminds us that just when we least feel like singing, when we are farthest from joy and love, is exactly when we have to call upon our faith to draw forth song [joy] from deep within our souls, drawing future potential into our present experience, mindfully opening again and again to God’s loving and joyful presence.

[Beshallach 2014]

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