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שירת הים | The Song of the Sea, sung with a Moroccan Nusaḥ by R’ Hillel Ḥayim Yisraeli-Lavery

According to Rabbinic tradition, the 21st of Nissan is the day in the Jewish calendar on which Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Sea of Reeds, and the redeemed children of Yisrael sang the Song of the Sea, the (Shirat Hayam, Exodus 15:1-19). The song, as included in the the morning prayers, comprises one of the most ancient text in Jewish liturgy.

The 21st of Nissan corresponds to the 7th day of Passover, and the recitation of the Shirat HaYam is part of the daily Torah Reading. Some Sepharadi communities recite a song in Ladino based on the Shirat Hayam, the Ketuba (Marriage Contract) of Yom Vayyosha (the Day of the Song of the Sea). It is the custom of the Ḥassidei Ḥabad to stay up all night learning (just as on Shavuot and Hashana Raba). The day also corresponds with the 6th day of the Omer, Yesod sheb’Ḥesed (Foundation within Lovingkindness) in the order of the lower sefirot or creative emanations.

Rabbi Hillel Ḥayim Yisraeli-Lavery shares a performance of a melody he learned for the Shirat Hayam from צוף דבש Tzuf Devash, a Moroccan synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. If there is something about this tune that strikes one as particularly celebratory, it might be because the relationship between G‽D and the Jewish people is traditionally described as a marriage consummated with the Covenant at Mt. Sinai. The passage of Bnei Yisrael through the Sea of Reeds towards Mt. Sinai thus begins a bridal march commencing in the theophany at Mt. Sinai, 42 days later.

From Exodus, chapter 15:1-19. In the layout below which emulates the traditional scribal layout inked on Torah scrolls, the left and right columns text are intended to symbolize the columns of water on either side of the passage of the children of Yisrael (signified as the text in the central column.)

אָ֣ז יָשִֽׁיר־מֹשֶׁה֩ וּבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ                                            
אָשִׁ֤ירָה לַֽיהֹוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה
וְרֹכְב֖וֹ רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם׃
עָזִּ֤י וְזִמְרָת֙ יָ֔הּ וַֽיְהִי־לִ֖י
זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ
אָבִ֖י וַאֲרֹמְמֶֽנְהוּ׃
יְהֹוָ֖ה אִ֣ישׁ מִלְחָמָ֑ה יְהֹוָ֖ה
מַרְכְּבֹ֥ת פַּרְעֹ֛ה וְחֵיל֖וֹ יָרָ֣ה בַיָּ֑ם
שָֽׁלִשָׁ֖יו טֻבְּע֥וּ בְיַם־סֽוּף׃
תְּהֹמֹ֖ת יְכַסְיֻ֑מוּ יָרְד֥וּ בִמְצוֹלֹ֖ת כְּמוֹ־
יְמִֽינְךָ֣ יְהֹוָ֔ה נֶאְדָּרִ֖י בַּכֹּ֑חַ
יְהֹוָ֖ה תִּרְעַ֥ץ אוֹיֵֽב׃
וּבְרֹ֥ב גְּאוֹנְךָ֖ תַּהֲרֹ֣ס
תְּשַׁלַּח֙ חֲרֹ֣נְךָ֔ יֹאכְלֵ֖מוֹ כַּקַּֽשׁ׃
אַפֶּ֙יךָ֙ נֶ֣עֶרְמוּ מַ֔יִם
נִצְּב֥וּ כְמוֹ־נֵ֖ד
קָֽפְא֥וּ תְהֹמֹ֖ת בְּלֶב־יָֽם׃
אוֹיֵ֛ב אֶרְדֹּ֥ף אַשִּׂ֖יג
אֲחַלֵּ֣ק שָׁלָ֑ל תִּמְלָאֵ֣מוֹ
אָרִ֣יק חַרְבִּ֔י תּוֹרִישֵׁ֖מוֹ יָדִֽי׃
בְרוּחֲךָ֖ כִּסָּ֣מוֹ יָ֑ם
צָֽלְלוּ֙ כַּֽעוֹפֶ֔רֶת בְּמַ֖יִם
מִֽי־כָמֹ֤כָה בָּֽאֵלִם֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה
כָּמֹ֖כָה נֶאְדָּ֣ר בַּקֹּ֑דֶשׁ
נוֹרָ֥א תְהִלֹּ֖ת עֹ֥שֵׂה
נָטִ֙יתָ֙ יְמִ֣ינְךָ֔ תִּבְלָעֵ֖מוֹ אָֽרֶץ׃
בְחַסְדְּךָ֖ עַם־ז֣וּ גָּאָ֑לְתָּ
נֵהַ֥לְתָּ בְעָזְּךָ֖ אֶל־נְוֵ֥ה
שָֽׁמְע֥וּ עַמִּ֖ים יִרְגָּז֑וּן
אָחַ֔ז יֹשְׁבֵ֖י פְּלָֽשֶׁת׃
אָ֤ז נִבְהֲלוּ֙ אַלּוּפֵ֣י
אֵילֵ֣י מוֹאָ֔ב יֹֽאחֲזֵ֖מוֹ רָ֑עַד
כֹּ֖ל יֹשְׁבֵ֥י כְנָֽעַן׃
תִּפֹּ֨ל עֲלֵיהֶ֤ם אֵימָ֙תָה֙
בִּגְדֹ֥ל זְרוֹעֲךָ֖ יִדְּמ֣וּ כָּאָ֑בֶן
יַעֲבֹ֤ר עַמְּךָ֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה
עַֽד־יַעֲבֹ֖ר עַם־ז֥וּ
תְּבִאֵ֗מוֹ וְתִטָּעֵ֙מוֹ֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַחֲלָֽתְךָ֔
לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֛ פָּעַ֖לְתָּ יְהֹוָ֑ה
מִקְּדָ֕שׁ אֲדֹנָ֖י כּוֹנְנ֥וּ
יְהֹוָ֥ה ׀ יִמְלֹ֖ךְ לְעֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד׃
בָא֩ ס֨וּס פַּרְעֹ֜ה בְּרִכְבּ֤וֹ וּבְפָרָשָׁיו֙ בַּיָּ֔ם
וַיָּ֧שֶׁב יְהֹוָ֛ה עֲלֵהֶ֖ם
אֶת־מֵ֣י הַיָּ֑ם
וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָלְכ֥וּ בַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה בְּת֥וֹךְ

Then Moshe and the children of Yisrael sang this song to YHVH,
and said, “I will sing to YHVH, for he has triumphed gloriously. The horse
and his rider he has thrown into the sea. Yah is my strength and song. He has become my
salvation. This is my G‽D, and I will praise him; G‽D
of my father, and I will exalt him. YHVH is a man of war. YHVH
is his name. He has cast Pharaoh’s chariots and his army into the sea. His chosen
captains are sunk in the Reed Sea The deeps cover them. They went down into the depths like a
stone. Your right hand, YHVH, is glorious in power. Your right hand,
YHVH, dashes the enemy in pieces. In the greatness of your excellency, you overthrow
those who rise up against you. You send forth your wrath. It consumes them as stubble. With the blast
of your nostrils, the waters were piled up. The floods stood upright as a
heap. The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea. Said
the enemy, ‘I will pursue. I will overtake. I will divide the spoil. Satisfied upon them, shall be
my desire. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew
with your wind. The sea covered them. They sank like lead in the waters,
mighty. Who is like you, YHVH, among the gods? Who
is like you, glorious in holiness fearful in praises, doing
wonders? You stretched out your right hand. The earth swallowed them. You have led
in your loving kindness the people that you have redeemed. You have guided them in your strength to your habitation,
holy. The peoples have heard. They tremble. Pangs
have taken hold on the inhabitants of Philistia. Then, were dismayed the chiefs of
Edom. Trembling takes hold of the mighty men of Moab. Melted away
all the inhabitants of Canaan. Falls on them terror
and dread. By the greatness of your arm they are as still as a stone– until
your people pass over, YHVH until the people pass over who
you have purchased. You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, the place,
YHVH, which you have made for yourself to dwell in; the sanctuary, my Master, established.
with your hands YHVH shall reign forever and ever. For
the horses of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea and YHVH brought back on them
the waters of the sea but the children of Yisroel walked on dry land in the midst of the Sea.

Any mention of rejoicing even at the cost of the death or injury of one’s enemy must be tempered as all Bnei Adam are made B’Tzelem Elohim (with divine likeness). The Talmud Bavli Megillah 10b teaches,

ר’ יהושע בן לוי פתח לה פיתחא להאי פרשתא מהכא
(דברים כח, סג) והיה כאשר שש ה’ עליכם להיטיב אתכם כן ישיש להרע אתכם
ומי חדי הקב”ה במפלתן של רשעים
והא כתיב (דברי הימים ב כ, כא) בצאת לפני החלוץ ואומרים הודו לה’ כי לעולם חסדו
וא”ר יוחנן
מפני מה לא נאמר כי טוב בהודאה זו לפי שאין הקב”ה שמח במפלתן של רשעים
ואמר רבי יוחנן מאי דכתיב (שמות יד, כ) ולא קרב זה אל זה כל הלילה בקשו מלאכי
השרת לומר שירה אמר הקב”ה מעשה ידי טובעין בים ואתם אומרים שירה
Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi opened his discourse on this section with the following text:
“And it shall come to pass that as Hashem rejoiced over you to do you good, so G‽D will rejoice over you to cause you to perish” (Deuteronomy 28:63).
Now does the Holy Blessed One, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked?
Is it not written, “as they went out before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks unto Hashem, for his mercy endures for ever’,” (II Chronicles 20:21) —
and Rebbi Yoḥanan said, Why are the words ‘for he is good’ omitted from this thanksgiving? Because the Holy Blessed One does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked.
And Rebbi Yoḥanan further said, What is the meaning of the verse, “And one came not near the other all the night?” (Exodus 14:20)
The ministering angels wanted to chant their hymns, but the Holy Blessed One, said, ‘The work of my hands is being drowned in the sea, and shall you chant hymns?’

Normally the manner in which we are enjoined to act is summed up in Pirkei Avot (4:19) by Shmuel Hakatan who quotes Mishlei (Proverbs 24:17-18):

בִּנְפֹל אויביך [אוֹיִבְךָ] אַל תִּשְׂמָח וּבִכָּשְׁלוֹ אַל יָגֵל לִבֶּךָ.
פֶּן יִרְאֶה יְהוָה וְרַע בְּעֵינָיו וְהֵשִׁיב מֵעָלָיו אַפּוֹ.
When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; when they stumble, let your heart not be gladdened. Lest G‽D see, and it will displeasing in G‽D’s eyes, and G‽D will turn G‽D’s wrath from them [to you].

So how is it that The Song of the Sea is celebrated on this one day, the seventh of Passover? Our god is the god of light and the dark. Our understanding of the non-dual unity of G‽D embraces the reality of suffering in the world as well as our responsibility to challenge G‽D for permitting it. The one time in the year in which G‽D’s divine aspect as Mashkhit (executioner) is dared invoked is on the night of Passover, during the telling of the Passover Haggadah, when G‽D is described through midrash as the Shekhina carrying her sword, protecting her people. The rest of the year we shun from invoking this aspect, I believe, because we want to beckon G‽D’s lovingkindness and compassion (ḥesed and raḥamim) to overwhelm G‽D’s attributes of justice and discipline (din and gevurah), even as these latter attributes were so key in the redemption of Bnei Yisrael from Mitzrayim and their birth as a people.

In the worldview of Rabbinic Judaism that I know, the continued existence of this world (Olam Hazeh) is suspended in the balance of the deeds of humankind in their Nature. However the world tilts towards meriting destruction, the world is saved, moment after moment by virtue of our individual actions and those of other righteous individuals. Any invocation of divine justice and discipline is thus existentially dangerous. But on Passover, this invocation is permitted, because the invention of Bnei Yisroel is founded on the idea that its very identity as a people is only validated by it demanding justice and modelling loving, non-predatory consensual relationships, between all beings in the world. The continued existence of Olam Hazeh is thus bound up in the idea of an activist people helping to bend the history of the world towards justice through modeling compassion and loving-kindness.

We should always merit to live up to these ideals and save the world from the suffering caused by the predatory behavior of those, like Pharoah, who persued in order to devour, and who were in turn devoured. Jewish identity is born at a cost — of taking responsibility to do good in the world: to increase fairness and behave with compassion (and this is my understanding for the song’s inclusion in the morning prayers read every day).

We are grateful to Rabbi Hillel Ḥayim Yisraeli-Lavery for sharing his instructional videos (1, 2) with a CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported license. Rabbi Hillel Ḥayim Yisraeli-Lavery learned this tune at צוף דבש Tzuf Devash, a Moroccan synagogue in the Old City in Jerusalem.

While emulating the traditional scribal layout, I have included the full text of the Shirat Hayam from the Masoretic text of the Wetminster Leningrad Codex. I have included an English translation to accompany the text from Exodus 15:1-19. The translation used here is from the Jewish English Torah, with sparse modifications, mainly to revert Anglicizations of Hebrew names, and to replace “the Lord” with YHVH as a signifier of the Ineffable Name. The font used to display the Masoretic text is Shlomoscribe by Shlomo Orbach, based on Ezra SIL. This font is included in the Open Siddur Open Source and Unicode Hebrew Font Pack. — Aharon Varady

Last updated: 2015-4-5 16:43

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