It’s at times such as these that we all must assume leadership responsibilities
“Then Yisrael sang this song: “’Rise up, well, sing to it!” (Bamidbar 21:17)
Everyone has his own voice, expressed through speech, writing, and through song. Each of the great leaders of Bnei Yisrael had his distinctive voice. Avraham’s was heard throughout his world, while Yitzchak’s was silent in comparison. Moshe described his own voice as defective, yet he was capable of supreme eloquence. Moshe also expressed his voice in song, as in Az Yashir. (Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU Parshah)
My father ztz”l could listen to the same song one hundred times. In a row. That’s no exaggeration. My family would often make the four-hour drive to New York to visit my grandfather. My father would listen to one song the entire time. “Play it again, Sam,” he’d quip, and my mother would rewind and the song would begin again. (You do the math, how many times would we hear one song on each trip?)
It was hard to get sick of any of his songs though, because my father enjoyed them as much on repeat #99 as he did the first time around. At home he’d close his eyes and sway softly to the music, humming the words with such appreciation that you could tell he was deep into the song, not just listening to it. There were certain tunes that no matter when I heard them, I’d stop and think, hey, they’re playing Abba’s song!
In this parshah, the voice of the entire nation joined in the Song of the Well. This is a much briefer song than Az Yashir.
Furthermore, Az Yashir was sung responsively, first Moshe singing a phrase, then Bnei Yisrael repeating it. Moshe was the leader, the composer, and the people were but the choir. Yet in this week’s song, the entire people sing as one.
This song coincides with the timing of a critical transition in the leadership of the nation. Since Yetzias Mitzrayim, there were essentially three leaders: Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. In this week’s parshah, both Miriam and Aharon pass from the scene, and Moshe learns that his leadership authority is waning. The leadership is passing from a period where it is dominated by charismatic leaders to one in which it is shared by the people as a whole. Thus they find their voice and sing as one.
When my father was niftar suddenly, I couldn’t tolerate hearing any of his songs. As an avel, you’d think I’d be safe since I couldn’t hear music, but Eretz Yisrael is a land of harmony, and I was accosted by these tunes all over.
I remember that first Erev Shavuos in aveilus. I was rushing, preparing for Yom Tov when suddenly the loudspeakers in my neighborhood began blaring “Kad Yasvin Yisrael….”
I froze. This was one of Abba’s all-time favorites. His brow would be furrowed, his hand slightly lifted, waving in rhythm as he sang “Chazu, chazu, banai, banai.” The words now playing through my window left me feeling weak in the knees. I burst into tears and let the memories wash over me.
It’s at times such as these that we all must assume leadership responsibilities. We cannot afford to humbly refrain from acting as heads and guides to our own families and communities. It’s at times such as now that we must, each of us, find our own voices and sing the songs of leadership.
A few weeks ago, the cheder across the street from me was hosting its annual Chumash party. As the weather was pleasant, all the windows were wide open, so we were able to follow the festivities, to my kids’ delight. Then the music segued into the melody of “Chazu, chazu,” and then the sound of pure, innocent Yiddishe kinder singing this song. I found myself swaying slightly, my hand slightly raised, waving to the music. I was surprised to realize that the memories brought no pain. With the passage of years, I’ve made peace with the passing of the mantel of parenthood from my father to me, to my own children and to theirs. I saw my father’s face before me and could imagine him in Shamayaim enjoying his banai, his sons, celebrating Hashem’s Torah. They were singing Abba’s song, and I was ready to play it, again.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 747)
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