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    Only one Shirah – B’shallach

    Israelites crossing the sea, from the Venice Haggadah, 1609

    The central feature of B’shallach is the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15), sung triumphantly by Moses, Miriam and the Children of Israel and now included in the daily morning prayers.

    The Song of the Sea is not the only song which Israel sang during the course of Biblical history.

    The record of great songs is preserved in the Mechilta. The Israelites sang in Egypt on the night they departed. They sang when a well of water sprang up in the wilderness. Moses sang a song of comfort before he died.

    Joshua sang when he won a great victory. Deborah and Barak sang when they vanquished Sisera. David sang when he was saved from his enemies. Solomon sang when the Temple was dedicated. King Yehoshafat sang when he went into battle.

    Despite all these songs, there was only one Shirah, which Hertz called “probably the oldest song of national triumph still extant”.

    People hum, sing and chant on countless occasions. Sometimes the occasions are days of communal celebration like the Seder. Sometimes they are the emotional outpourings of the soul, like Kol Nidrei. But there is a special quality to a song that a redeemed nation sings on a unique occasion of historic significance.

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