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    A women’s poem – B’shallach

    This sidra contains the Shirah, a song of triumph. Marking Pharoah’s defeat, it is one of the Biblical war songs which were in the now lost Book of the Wars of the Lord and the Book of the Upright (Num. 21:14, Josh. 10:12-13).

    Warriors were welcomed home with song and ceremony. It is unlikely that this was spontaneous and on the spur of the moment. The women and children must have planned the celebrations in advance; ritual singing was a womanly activity. The women automatically employed words, ideas and phrases from their own experience.

    The Shirah is a nation’s echo of women having babies, an allegory of national birth, with birth pangs, breaking of waters, and entry into a new world. The poem might have had a female author since the details of childbirth are not likely to be known by the men.

    The women’s jubilation had a leader (Miriam) and female musicians, musical instruments, and melodic dancing.

    There is Miriam-centred material in the Dead Sea Scrolls, with poetic fragments about Miriam which may have originated in the Biblical text in order to enhance the primacy of Moses.

    Women’s welcomes to their men include the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), the celebration that turned bitter because of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:32-34) and the celebration of David’s victory over Goliath (I Sam. 18:6-7).

    At the Red Sea, the struggle did not involve professional warriors. Both men and women were there, but apparently without personal involvement. The fighting was by God – “The Lord, the Warrior: Lord is His name” (Ex. 15:3); “Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power, Your right hand shatters the foe!” (verse 6).

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