https://opensiddur.org/?p=6587שירת הים | Shirat haYam :: the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-19)2013-03-30 18:53:16According 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 (<em>Shirat Hayam</em>, 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. Rabbi Hillel Ḥayim Yisraeli-Lavery shares a performance of a melody he learned for the <em>Shirat Hayam</em> from <span class="hebrew" lang="he">צוף דבש</span> <em>Tzuf Devash</em>, 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.Textthe Open Siddur ProjectAharon N. VaradyAharon N. VaradyR' Hillel Ḥayyim Lavery-Yisraëlithe Masoretic Texthttps://opensiddur.org/copyright-policy/Aharon N. Varadyhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/Sefer Shemot (Exodus)Pesaḥ Readings7th Day of PesaḥParashat b'ShalaḥPsukei D'zimrah/ZemirotsymplegadesAz Yashirשירת הים Shirat haYamSong of the Seaקריעת ים סוף qriyat yam sufconflicting messagessafe passageYom Vayosha
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 del Seten Dia de Pesah (the Marriage Contract of Yom Vayyosha/the Day of “Vayosha” after the opening word in Exodus 14:30). It is the custom of the Ḥassidei ḤaBaD to stay up all night learning (just as on Shavuot and Hoshana 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 דבשTsuf 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.)
Then Moshe and the children of Yisrael sang this song to YHVH,
“I will sing to YHVH, for THEY have triumphed gloriously.
and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
Yah is my strength and song. They have become my
This is my elo’ah, and I will praise them;
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.
captains are sunk in the Reed Sea
The deeps cover them. They went down into the depths like a
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
The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.
the enemy, ‘I will pursue. I will overtake.
I will divide the spoil. Satisfied upon them, shall be
I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’
with your wind. The sea covered them.
They sank like lead in the waters,
Who is like you, YHVH, among the gods?
is like you, glorious in holiness
fearful in praises, doing
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,
The peoples have heard. They tremble.
have taken hold on the inhabitants of Philistia.
Then, were dismayed the chiefs of
Trembling takes hold of the mighty men of Moav.
all the inhabitants of K’naan.
Falls on them terror
By the greatness of your arm they are as still as a stone–
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,
YHVH, which you have made for yourself to dwell in;
the sanctuary, my Master, established.
with your hands
YHVH shall reign forever and ever.
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
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,
“And it shall come to pass that as YHVH rejoiced over you to do you good,
so Hashem will rejoice over you” — to do evil to them. Deuteronomy 28:63. Note that the end of this passage deviates from the text of the Masoretic verse.
Now does the blessed Holy One rejoice in the downfall of the wicked?
Is it not written, “as they went out before the army, saying:
‘Give thanks unto YHVH for their lovingkindness endures in the Cosmos’” II Chronicles 20:21 ?
and Rebbi Yoḥanan said, From context, we think this is Rebbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai.
Why are the words ‘for (Hashem) is good’ omitted from this thanksgiving?
Because the blessed Holy 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 sing their songs, but the blessed Holy One said,
‘The work of my hands is being drowned in the sea, and shall you sing songs?’
Normally the manner in which we are enjoined to act is summed up in Pirqei Avot (4:19) by Shmuel Hakatan who quotes Mishlei/Proverbs:
When your enemy falls, do not rejoice;
when they stumble, let your heart not be gladdened.
Lest YHVH see and it will displeasing in their eyes
and Hashem will turn their wrath from your enemy [to you]. Proverbs 24:17-18
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
Aharon Varady is the founding director of the Open Siddur Project. A community planner (M.C.P, DAAP/University of Cincinnati.) and Jewish educator (M.A. J.Ed., Davidson School of Education/JTSA), his work in open-source Judaism has been written about in the Yiddish Forverts, the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz. If you find any egregious mistakes in his work, please let him know. Shgiyot mi yavin; Ministarot naqeniשְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין; מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי "Who can know all one's flaws? From hidden errors, correct me" (Psalms 19:13). If you'd like to directly support his work, please consider donating via his Patreon account. (Varady also transcribes and translates prayers, besides serving as the primary shammes of the Open Siddur Project and its website, opensiddur.org.)
Hillel Lavery-Yisraëli is the rabbi of Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Queens, New York. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, he did most of his rabbinical training in Jerusalem. He lived in Israel for 16 years, during which time he taught at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and served as the rabbi of Conservative Congregation Beit Israel in Netanya. From 2012-2015 he served as chief rabbi of Gothenburg, Sweden. Until August 2022, he served as the rabbi of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Hamilton, Canada. In keeping with his position as rabbi, he is an activist for human rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, 2S LGBTQIA+ rights and basic income. He has authored numerous articles, some of which can be seen here and here. Click here to watch his lecture, "Gender, Sexuality and Identity in the Jewish Tradition". More of his instructional videos can be found on youtube here and here. Rabbi Hillel is married to Yonah who is also a rabbi, a soferet and an artist. He is the proud father of four children.
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Tanakh for Karaite and Rabbinic Judaism. It was primarily copied, edited and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries CE. The Masoretic Text defines the Jewish canon and its precise letter-text, with its vocalization and accentuation known as the Masorah.
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ויהי נעם אדני אלהינו עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננהו "May the pleasantness of אדֹני our elo’ah be upon us; may our handiwork be established for us — our handiwork, may it be established."–Psalms 90:17
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