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 דבש Tsuf 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.)
|Source (Hebrew)||Translation (English)|
רבי יהושע בן לוי פתח לה פיתחא להאי פרשתא מהכא
וְהָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר־שָׂשׂ יְהוָה עֲלֵיכֶם לְהֵיטִיב אֶתְכֶם
וּלְהַרְבּוֹת אֶתְכֶם כֵּן יָשִׂישׂ — להרע אתכם (דברים כח:סג)
ומי חדי הקב״ה במפלתן של רשעים
והא כתיב בצאת לפני החלוץ ואומרים
הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ (דברי הימים ב כ:כא)
ואמר רבי יוחנן
מפני מה לא נאמר כי טוב בהודאה זו
לפי שאין הקב”ה שמח במפלתן של רשעים
ואמר רבי יוחנן
מאי דכתיב וְלֹא־קָרַב זֶה אֶל־זֶה כָּל־הַלָּיְלָה (שמות יד:כ)
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 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?’
בִּנְפֹל אויביך [אוֹיִבְךָ] אַל תִּשְׂמָח
וּבִכָּשְׁלוֹ אַל יָגֵל לִבֶּךָ.
פֶּן יִרְאֶה יְהוָה וְרַע בְּעֵינָיו
וְהֵשִׁיב מֵעָלָיו אַפּוֹ. (משלי כד:יז-יט)
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
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
“שירת הים | Shirat haYam :: the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-19)” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.
Works of related interest:
פָּרָשַׁת בְּשַׁלַּח | Parashat b’Shalaḥ (Exodus 13:17-17:16), color-coded according to its narrative layers
Torah Reading for Parashat b’Shalaḥ (Exodus 13:17-17:16): Chantable English translation with trōp, by Len Fellman