Moses Bursts Into Song: Pay Attention!
February 3, 2023
By Cantor Mark Horowitz

I have the privilege of reflecting on one of my favorite pearls of Torah, the Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea. We will be chanting this portion tomorrow on Shabbat as part of Parashat Beshallach.

It may be familiar to many of you. Moses, after leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, uncharacteristically launches into a heart-filled song praising God. It is so incongruous to the Moses we know that it is stunning as it plays out. Moses sings, the people follow and a new memory is created that begins to replace the community’s joint nightmare of slavery under Pharaoh.

In the Torah, the physical layout of the “Song” is unique. It is meant to be reminiscent of the waves that must have been stirred by the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites and the subsequent chase by the Egyptians.

Moses, who tells God that he has never been eloquent and is slow of speech and tongue, suddenly bursts into song. That fact, the physical structure of this passage combined with the joyous and lyrical chant, indicates that something unusual is about to happen. It cries out to “Pay Attention”.

Imagine how powerful this is for Moses on his journey as a leader. It begs the question of the kind of leader he was and what brought him to this moment.

At the burning bush, Moses has the patience to raise his eyes to study the significance of this particular fire. It speaks to his ability to perceive the gravity of the experience and to look beyond the obvious.

Even though Moses is chosen by God to lead- his leadership is defined and solidified by the strong relationships he builds with the people. He understands that people need to see their leader’s vision in order to join and support him. Moses paints a compelling image of the Promised Land. The Israelites are willing to make serious sacrifices for a future they can see.

Imagine in our homes, our organizations, our friendship circles and perhaps even in our government, if we took our cue from Moses and thought about these three basic skills in being a successful leader: 1) Take an extra moment to listen to what people are saying; 2) Look at the world with an extra set of eyes and; 3) React to the natural things around us as if they were miracles.

At the core of our communities and families is our desire and ability to build strong and meaningful relationships. If only we would take the time and be determined to do so.

When we have a plan, a vision or an objective, might we take the time and make the effort to paint a clear picture of where we are going and encourage people to join us.

As the new Chief People Officer of the JCC of Greater Buffalo, I take inspiration from the songs of Moses and Miriam (perhaps we can chat about that next year!), and try to create my own unique songs of praise. May each of us, leaders in the Jewish community or wherever we find ourselves leading and caring for others, create prayers, songs and dances that bring us together in freedom as a community of strength, conviction, meaning, love and peace.

Cantor Mark Horowitz is the Chief People Officer of the JCC of Greater Buffalo.

Moses Bursts Into Song: Pay Attention! - Jewish Thought of the week 2022