This morning we sang excerpts from the Song at the Sea. We sang my favorite line from that song: עָזִי וְזִמרָת יָה וַיְהִי–לִי לִישֻעָה.
That line is often translated as “God is my strength and my might, and will be my deliverance.” But zimra doesn’t mean “might,” it means “song” — as in psukei d’zimra, our poems and songs of praise. Sometimes I translate this line as “God is my strength and my song, and will be my salvation.” I like the idea that both my strength, and my song, are ways of finding God. But the best translation I know is Rabbi Shefa Gold’s translation (and by the way, she also wrote the melody for this verse that we’re singing this morning): “My strength (balanced with) God’s song will be my salvation.”
My strength, balanced with God’s song, will be my salvation.
Some of us may be allergic to the word “salvation,” which feels kind of… Christian, somehow. Though of course the notion of a God Who saves us was a Jewish idea long before the birth of Rabbi Jesus. One paradigmatic example of God’s salvation is the crossing of the Sea of Reeds — which is in today’s Torah portion. God parted the waters and we came through. We sing about it every week when we sing Mi Chamocha — “the water is wide…”
Y’all probably know by now that I don’t understand this as a historical story. This is a true story in the way that great literature is true. This is a true story because it speaks to one of our deepest human hopes: that when we are in tight places, we will find a way out. That when we are trapped between an advancing army and the sea, we will find a way through. That if we step into the sea, if we cultivate faith in a better future, we can partner with something beyond ourselves to bring that better future into being.
We partner with something beyond ourselves. My strength, balanced with God’s song.
We need our own strength in order to cross the sea, to face whatever difficulties arise in our lives — and every life holds tsuris, “suffering,” which comes from the same root as Mitzrayim, “the Narrow Place.” Every life has times when we feel trapped in the narrowness of our own circumstance. Life’s challenges call forth our strength. Our task is to feel our own strength flowing through us, and to know that we have the inner resources the moment demands.
And we need God’s song in order to cross the sea. We need music that uplifts the heart. We need love to sing its melody in us. We need hope, and heart-opening, and joy. If we try to cross the sea without those things, we might manage to walk across the sand, but we’d be like the figures in the midrash who were so busy kvetching about the muddy sea floor that they forgot to notice the miracle all around them, and as a result, when they reached the other side they weren’t really free.
My strength, balanced with God’s song. That’s what gets us across the sea. That’s what gets us from the narrow place into expansiveness. That’s what enables us to experience spiritual growth and transformation. Our own core strength, balanced with the ineffable: with song and joy, with meaning and love.
This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel gave at shul on Shabbat (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)