The Power of Song
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein | February 10, 2017
On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song . . . — Judges 5:1
The Torah portion for this week is Beshalach, which means “when he sent them away,” from Exodus 13:17–17:16, and the Haftorah is from Judges 4:4–5:31.
The Haftorah for the Torah portion of Beshalach is taken from the book of Judges and tells us the memorable story about two biblical heroines — Deborah and Jael. Deborah was a prophetess and the leader of Israel. She was commanded by God to defeat the armies of Jabin and their General Sisera through her own second-in-command, Barak.
After Barak insisted that Deborah accompany him on the battlefield, the two defeated the enemy armies, but the enemy general, Sisera, escaped on foot. Sisera took refuge in the home of someone he considered an ally and friend, Jael. But instead, Jael chose to help Israel and killed Sisera in his sleep. The war was won, the enemy completely vanquished, and Deborah celebrated victory.
Chapter 5 is filled with the words of Deborah’s song. This is the strongest link between this week’s Torah reading and its Haftorah. In the Torah portion, we read the “Song of the Sea,” the powerful song that Moses and the children of Israel sang as they crossed through the sea and the Egyptians were drowned: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD . . . “ (Exodus 15:1). Here, in the Haftorah, we read Deborah’s song: “On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song . . . “
By linking the two readings with prayerful singing, we are encouraged to reflect on the purpose and power of song. In both instances, it was not enough for the people to express their gratitude to God only through words of prayer. Why was it necessary to add the element of music?
Today, we tend to think of music as entertainment. But the gift that we call song is so much more than that. As the saying goes, “Music takes us where words cannot go.” Music is not just entertaining and enjoyable; it is transformational and transcendental. Music is a vehicle through which we can reach God.
Throughout the Bible, specifically the books of the prophets, we find that prophets’ words are often accompanied by musical instruments. In the Holy Temples, music played an integral role in worship. Certainly, music remains today a staple in both synagogues and churches. The tradition of reaching out to God in song lives on.
What a wonderful reminder to make the most of the gift of music in our lives. We should use its power to lift us up and bring us closer to God. But we also must choose our music wisely knowing that both the words and the music impact our souls. We also can learn to make our own music. In fact, Scripture encourages us: “Sing to the LORD a new song” (Isaiah 42:10). Jewish tradition teaches that each soul has a unique song to sing. Let us find our song and share our music with the world.