Building a World Through Song
(Shabbat Beshallach - Shabbat Shirah)
January 17, 2019
Can we build a world through song?
Shabbat Shirah is named after the Song at the parting of the Red Sea (Shemot 15). The Shirah is a kind of building--“a half brick upon a whole brick and a whole brick upon a half brick” (Talmud Megillah 16b). Look closely and you’ll see “the children of Israel” with “the sea” on their right and left (Shemot 15:19, as it appears in the Torah scroll), graphically recreating walls of water (as in 14:29). And the Song anticipates the ultimate building: “You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain, The place You made to dwell in, O LORD, The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands established” (15:17)
The Netziv teaches that the Torah as a whole is a Shirah (see the introduction, קדמת העמק, to his Torah commentary, Ha'amek Davar). When we “sing” this Song (by learning and living Torah), we become builders (Talmud Berachot 64a, 'Do not read your children/banayich, but your builders/bonayich'). We singer/builders must raise or lower our voices as appropriate so that many distinct voices can meld into one beautiful harmony. Thus, we build a world through song.
אמר רבי חנינא בר פפא דרש ר' שילא איש כפר תמרתא כל השירות כולן נכתבות אריח על גבי לבינה ולבינה על גבי אריח
Rabbi Ḥanina bar Pappa said that Rabbi Sheila, a man of the village of Timarta, interpreted a verse homiletically: All of the songs in the Bible are written in the form of a half brick arranged upon a whole brick and a whole brick arranged upon a half brick, i.e., each line of the song is divided into a stich of text, referred to as a half brick, which is separated by a blank space, referred to as a whole brick, from the concluding stich of that line of text.
(יט) כִּ֣י בָא֩ ס֨וּס פַּרְעֹ֜ה בְּרִכְבּ֤וֹ וּבְפָרָשָׁיו֙ בַּיָּ֔ם וַיָּ֧שֶׁב ה' עֲלֵהֶ֖ם אֶת־מֵ֣י הַיָּ֑ם וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָלְכ֥וּ בַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּֽם׃ (פ)
(19) For the horses of Pharaoh, with his chariots and horsemen, went into the sea; and the LORD turned back on them the waters of the sea; but the Israelites marched on dry ground in the midst of the sea.
(יז) תְּבִאֵ֗מוֹ וְתִטָּעֵ֙מוֹ֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַחֲלָֽתְךָ֔ מָכ֧וֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֛ פָּעַ֖לְתָּ ה' מִקְּדָ֕שׁ אדושם כּוֹנְנ֥וּ יָדֶֽיךָ׃
(17) You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain, The place You made to dwell in, O LORD, The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands established.
אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם שנאמר וכל בניך למודי ה׳ ורב שלום בניך אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך שלום רב לאהבי תורתך ואין למו מכשול יהי שלום בחילך שלוה בארמנותיך למען אחי ורעי אדברה נא שלום בך למען בית ה׳ אלקינו אבקשה טוב לך ה׳ עז לעמו יתן ה׳ יברך את עמו בשלום:
Rabbi Elazar said that Rabbi Ḥanina said: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said: “And all your children [banayikh] shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13). If all the children of Israel are taught of the Lord, there will be peace for all. The Sages interpreted this verse homiletically: Do not read your children [banayikh], but your builders [bonayikh]. Torah scholars are those who build peace for their generation. As it is stated: “Those who love Your Torah have great peace; there is no stumbling block for them” (Psalms 119:165); and “May there be peace within your walls, prosperity within your palaces” (Psalms 122:7), because: “For the sake of my brothers and friends, I shall say: Peace be within you. For the sake of the House of the Lord, our God, I will seek your good” (Psalms 122:8–9), and “May the Lord give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace” (Psalms 29:11).