“The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song, and man cannot live without a song.”
—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
“Make a joyful noise to Adonai, all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.”
Music has played a central role in Jewish faith, culture and living for millennia: From the Temple tones accompanying the ancient sacrifices, to the Chasidic niggunim and Arabesque-inflected melodies of the Sepharadim, to Temple De Hirsch Sinai’s very own illustrious history of song. Music reaches us in profound, non-rational ways that enrich and augment worship amongst many parts of our lives. When song accompanies words, the ideals conveyed impress themselves indelibly and endure in us continuously. Scholars contend that the poetic “Songs” of the bible are perhaps some of the oldest and most well-preserved passages in our sacred text. And so the “Shirat Hayam/Song of the Sea” in this week’s parasha, Beshallach, extended to the name of the Sabbath as “Shabbat Shirah,” reflects both some of the oldest strata of our tradition and some of the most powerful and eloquent expressions of appreciation for God in response to miraculous salvation. Perhaps when we hear and sing melodies that are integral to our lives and expressive of our ideals, whether they be within the context of worship or merely in our day to day existence, we heighten our awareness of God’s presence in our lives and the daily miracles that bless us, yet can escape our distracted notice.