What is it about familiar songs that capture our hearts so powerfully?

It’s a curious thing. With almost anything else, the more we rehash it, the less interesting it becomes. The first time you read your favorite novel, you were on the edge of your seat, turning pages well past any justifiable hour of the night. But after reading it ten times, you already know where the murder weapon is found and who will end up marrying who, and you’re no longer willing to torpedo tomorrow to find out what you already know today.

But music? It’s the complete opposite. You hear a good song once, and… meh, it doesn’t grab you. But then you hear it again, and again, and pretty soon, you love it. And as many times as you hear it, you’re moved all the same. Certainly, if the tune grabs you from the get-go, it will almost always continue to do so.

There’s a tune that evokes memories of my late father, deeply touching my soul every time I hear it. No matter where I am, or how many times I’ve heard it (or sung it myself), it still manages to pull at me (and render me an emotional mess in very awkward places).

Music never gets boring.

Why? What’s the secret?

Song at the Sea

The secret lies in a meta-analysis of the events recorded in the parshah—the incredible spectacle of the Splitting of the Sea.

Arguably one of Scripture’s most evocative miracles, the splitting of the sea which allowed the Jews to pass through on dry land is worthy of our attention. It may have happened many moons ago, yet as any causal student of the Torah knows, the stories and events that transpired then are not frozen in time. They are living, breathing stories that continue to inform and help us navigate our lives.

What, then, is the relevance of the splitting sea today? Nary a sea has split in my life, and I can bet it hasn’t in yours either, so what does this monsoon of a miracle tell us about our own lives?

Breaking it down further, one of the important details in the narrative is that after seeing the tremendous miracle at sea, the Jewish people burst into song. “Then Moses and the people sang,”1 What, then, is the relevance of the splitting sea today? Nary a sea has split in my life, and I can bet it hasn’t in yours either, so what does this monsoon of a miracle tell us about our own lives? the Torah tells us, followed by a poetic ode that paints a glorious picture of G‑d’s salvation and our thanks to Him. All who were present participated in this song, the women joining with their tambourines and hearts rejoicing.

That the people felt inspired to sing is no wonder. What we’re left to wonder is what the song means for us. What are we supposed to sing about? Perhaps your heart knows no joy.

A Revealed World and a Hidden World

Kabbalah2 analyzes the difference between land and sea, focusing on two particular features that set them apart.

First, to the eye that beholds the sea’s surface, there is nothing other than the sea, no form of life other than a blanket of water. By contrast, a quick glance at any sort of terrestrial surface will reveal an abundance of teeming life.

Second, much of the life that does exist in the sea is inseparable from the sea, demonstrably unable to live outside of it. Take a fish out of water, and it dies. By contrast, on land, while much of life is sustained by what grows from the ground, it is not readily visible that this is the case. One look at the world around you reveals a plethora of life walking around none the wiser—independent and very much alive.

Land and sea are metaphors for how G‑dliness can be perceived. The sea represents the G‑dly perspective: like the surface of the sea that belies any other existence, so it is in G‑d’s view. There is nothing other than Him. Period.

And like life in the sea, any and all entities that do exist, are simply part of His unity, completely dependent and subservient to Him—like a fish that cannot live out of water.

Then there’s the land, teeming with life forms that appear to be independent from their own source of life, the earth. This is akin to our human perspective vis-à-vis G‑d. We operate in a reality that screams, “I made myself and there is no G‑d!” We don’t live in a reality where it’s only G‑d and we have no separate entity or life of our own. We feel very much alive without Him, thank you very much, and it takes tremendous effort to realize that there’s a G‑d in this world.

After all, if I stopped you on the street on an average Monday and asked you if your entire reality is filled with G‑d right now, you would probably answer “no.” You’ve got bills to pay, a family to tend to, and a whole host of people and things to be mindful of. There’s so much life to consider before even remembering anything about G‑d!

Splitting the Sea

The magic of the Splitting Sea was the ripping open of the world of G‑d’s perspective and letting us take a deep dive into it. For a brief moment, we were able to advance and climb into a reality where there’s only G‑d, where everything—literally everything—is awash in His presence. Where we realize that without Him, there’s no life and nothing other than Him.

So what did the Jews do at that point? They raised their voices in song! Song is the language of the soul. Song is the soul getting excited about itself. While singing, especially an old tune, you have not learned anything new. It is simply the very rhythm of music that moves the soul itself.

Song is the language of the soul. Song is the soul getting excited about itself

And that’s why you’ll never tire of a song you love. For when you sing it, the motion it evokes is what stirs the soul, reminding the soul of the matters she really loves.

The song at the sea was an expression of the deep connection the Jews experienced with G‑d; a reflection of a reality in which there is nothing other than G‑d. The excitement is about beholding that reality and getting lost in it. Nothing else. The Jews were moved by an intense G‑dly experience, and so the natural reaction was the movement of the soul expressed through song.

It’s Time to Sing

And that is the story of song for you and I, today.

It’s the story of stirring your soul to be excited about true things, matters that touch your soul’s very core.

When are you supposed to do that? At a heavy metal concert or karaoke night?

No.

During prayer. More specifically, the first part of the morning prayers. Labeled in texts of Jewish law as “Songs of Praise,”3 this portion of prayer recounts G‑d’s greatness and glory in vivid detail, and it is here that we recite the Az Yashir—the Song of the Sea discussed here.

What’s the point of this song?

It’s not about the ideas expressed. The many words and poetic verses recited are to impress your soul into singing, so that you get excited about G‑d alone. To talk or think about G‑d is to be impressed or even excited at various cerebral levels. To sing about G‑d is when G‑d has touched your soul and excited your very core.

Song is the language of the soul, and that’s why it never gets tiresome. So, if you’re lacking a little pizzazz in your religious life, it’s time to start singing. Next time you pray, don’t simply “say” the words. Sing them! Unlock your heart and the pathway to your soul to stir your innermost self and tap dance with G‑d.

Then, as your heart and soul sing, your sea will have split.