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Parshas Chukas (5768)

Sing Your Own Song

This weekend in the synagogue we read Parshas Chukas - which contains, among other things, the "Song at the Well" that the Jewish people sang at the end of their forty-year sojourn in the desert before entering the Land of Israel [see Numbers 21:17-20]. This was a song in which the Jewish people expressed gratitude to G-d for having given them the miraculous well and its constant water supply which kept them alive in the arid Wilderness.

The Midrash comments that unlike the Song at the Sea which the Jewish people sang at the beginning of the 40-year journey in the desert - and which Moses led them in song - in this song at the well Moses name is nowhere to be found.

To understand why this is, we first need to understand the Torah's concept of shirah (song). In the normal course of events, we often fail to perceive G-d's hand at work, and we wonder how most of the daily, seemingly unrelated phenomena surrounding us could be part of a Divine plan. We see suffering and evil, and we wonder now they can be the handiwork of a Merciful G-d.

Rarely, however, there is a flash of insight that makes people realize how all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. It's that "aha!" moment when things come full circle (in fact, the Hebrew word for song, shirah, also means necklace or circle), when everything clicks, and when we can finally understand how every note, instrument and participant in G-d's symphony of Creation plays a role. The result is song, for the Torah's concept of song is the condition in which all the apparently unrelated and contradictory "happenings" do indeed meld into a coherent, merciful, comprehensible whole.

But it takes a certain spiritual maturity and sophistication to be able to see G-d's hand working through nature and behind the scenes in the course of human events. This explains why at the Splitting of the Sea, when the fledgling Jewish nation was just starting out and was as yet spiritually immature, they needed Moses to hold them by the hand, so to speak, and to lead in them singing the shirah.

But after forty years of the Jewish people experiencing all kinds of tests and challenges and open and hidden Miracles with Moses as their guide and teacher, he had enough confidence in them to sit back in his armchair and tell the people standing there at the well, "I took all of you up until this point, but I don't have to lead you anymore. Now you can go sing your own shirah!"

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