Shabbat Shirah: A Sabbath of Song

Posted on January 26, 2024 by Cantor Risa Wallach


Parashat Beshallach recounts the most famous miracle in Biblical history, the parting of the sea by God for the Israelites to pass into freedom on dry land. When the Israelites reach safety, they sing the Song of the Sea, Shirat Hayam. The song text in every Torah scroll is written to look like columns of water parted. (See image.) The chanting of the song is traditionally sung antiphonally between the congregation and the reader. This is one of the oldest melodies in Jewish tradition, often referred to as the ‘victory cadence’, and used in other special passages, as well as at the completion of one of the five books of the Torah, to the words, ‘chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek’. Strength, strength, may we be strengthened.’ Because the Song of the Sea is found in the parashah for this week, this Shabbat became known as Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song.

This Shabbat Shirah will feature musical settings by Cantor Linda Hirschhorn. Hirschhorn is a working Cantor, an arranger and choral conductor in San Leandro, CA at Congregation Beth Sholom and has composed a large number of rounds for Jewish rabbinic and liturgical texts. She toured for many years with her women’s vocal group called Vocolot. I have long admired her musical settings and wanted so much to sing them.

At this time of immense tension, fear and uncertainty for the Jewish people and the world, inspiring and beautiful music helps us transcend our troubles of the moment to feel a deeper connection to the Divine and all of existence. I pray that these melodies will uplift you and bring you some sense of peace and fulfillment on this Shabbat B’shallach, the Shabbat of Song.

Cantor Risa Wallach