Who is like you? (Sermon 7th Day Passover 2022)
Today we recreate history: the history of Roman soldiers who in 200 BCE, took matzah in their hands, added oil and cheese, thus creating the first ever matzah pizza. Yes, today is the 7th day of Passover, and thus the return of matzah pizza!
Today, Shvii Shel Pesach, the 7th day of Passover, we celebrate a journey, a journey from avdut lecheirut, from slavery to freedom. Each of us appears somewhere along this path towards freedom, each day our position changes.
Today, Shvii Shel Pesach, we read of the splitting of the red sea. “The red sea split itself in two…”
Normally, in English we say “the splitting of the Red Sea.” But the rabbis call this moment kriyat yam suf, קריעת ים סוף. The verb kriya, from the root קרע, means “to tear”, the tearing of the sea.”
Here in the book of Exodus, the verb used to describe the splitting of the sea is (bokei yam lifnei moshe) baka ,בקע (think bokei yam lifnei Moshe recited each night during the Maariv service). The root Baka means “to split.” So why did the rabbis switch to kriya? By changing to kriya, the rabbis acknowledge a change in perception of the nature of the event.
The Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Alter (1799-1866), was once asked this question: why Kriya as opposed to Baka?
The Shulchan Aruch HaGraz (Orach Chaim §340:17) defines korea as the act of ripping apart two things that were joined together, but were once separate. The Midrash says that when G-d first created the world, He stipulated with the water that when the time comes, they will split in order to allow the Jews to cross the Yam Suf. Because of this prior stipulation, the water can be seen as having already been split from the time of Creation. Thus, when the Jews came to the Yam Suf and G-d split the sea for them, He was actually splitting something which had already once been split. For this reason, the Oral Torah uses the word korea when talking about splitting the sea.
There is another theory: while the Torah uses the word baka, it is most often used to describe the splitting of a solid, hard object, (like a rock or a block of wood). That type of splitting can not be repaired or restored. The action of kriya, however, is associated with the tearing of softer items like garments (think funeral service). This most likely would’ve been a natural reminder for us to be sad about the death of the Egyptians.
According to this theory, those who preferred to refer to kriyat yam suf visualized the sea closing up on itself after the split. The split was not permanent, just as clothing can be repaired and restored, so too the sea would return to its original status.
The Tanach chose to focus on the force of the miracle, which split the sea as one would break open a block of wood, while the Sages preferred the image of the water letting Israel pass through, only to close upon the pursuing Egyptians.
So let us reimagine that moment of Mi Chamocha once again- Kriyat yam suf– it could be a moment of great relief, a moment of extreme exhaustion, or maybe it was a moment of exultation, or maybe it was a moment of sadness and loss (the kriya for all who were lost, for the comforts they left behind)…or maybe, the kriyat yam suf is a call to action, of reconciliation; that this tearing is only temporary, that God saved us from the waters to repair and rebuild…or maybe, just maybe, the kriya was symbolic of a moment of loss, when we don’t have the words to express ourselves; and in that moment, only one thing can get is through this time- to burst out into song.
So what was it like to sing at the edge of the waters? What kind of song did the Israelites chant? This kriyat yam suf moment, while collective, meant different things to different people. We hear this reflected in the melodies we use for this text.
A few weeks ago, I joked about some of the melodies associated with Mi Chamocha, a prayer we recite two(three) times a day. I imagined that day as a day of joy and exuberance, and so my ear is drawn to a high energy melody.
Listen to Cantor Richard Silverman’s interpretation of Mi Chamocha, a now standard of our Friday night service.
Such joy and excitement at a moment of freedom!
I have vivid memories of interviewing the music teachers at the Hadassah Primary School in Uganda. They explained the power of rhythm to tell a story. There are rhythms for all life cycle moments- from going to battle to performing a brit milah. As I listened to this Zulu melody below, it reminded me of the “prayer rhythm” explained to me back in Uganda.
Siyahamba is a South African hymn that became popular in North American churches in the 1990s. The title means “We Are Marching” or “We are Walking” in the Zulu language. Elana Jagoda took the melody and fit it to that space of marching/walking into that Mi Chamocha moment.
Debbie Friedman’s Miriam’s Song expresses this feeling of “space.” We focus on slavery as restricting our chance for sacred time, but we shouldn’t discount that we finally have the space to move!!! This melody makes us want to get up and dance in a giant hora!!
At the same time, we are exhausted. We feel broken by the moments that led to our freedom, and Shir Yaakov’s Mi Chamocha emotes this sense of exhaustion.
The melody for Mi Chamocha is also often the song of the Holiday – marking sacred moment/time. Each time we sing the “tune of the day”- we affirm our faith in the power of a calendar- here once again the post-slavery door opening to freedom, in this case the freedom to mark sacred time.
And finally, a melody that seems to encompass many of these emotions- beginning with exhaustion and despair, culminating with the voices of young people, unjaded by years of slavery, expressing joy and hope in a better world for tomorrow. There are so many layers to ‘When you Believe” from the Prince of Egypt.
All of these melodies are distinct, unique. They are deeply embedded into the text, not some random melody superimposed over a random text because we like the way it sounds. They tell their own version of the story. They paint a different picture of the events of Yam Suf.
So let’s take that Mi Chamocha moment seriously…and personally. Each time we are at that threshold moment- we make a conscious (or subconscious) decision to say “Where am I today?” Am I walking in the light of God? Am I still stuck in the narrow depths of mitzrayim? Am I ready to act boldly? I invite you to take our Mi Chamocha as a portal to resetting oneself, each day. May the text inspire a sense of transition to sacred time, may the melody ring as anything from a battle cry to a cry for help, and everything in between. Mi Chamocha? Who is like you? No one is. Shirat Hayam, Kriyat yam suf, captures each of our stories, unique and beautiful. We can find the melody that unlocks our own story, and in doing so, be our most authentic self each and every day we cross the sea.