Jewish Learning
Shabbat, Festivals & The Year

Gems from the Haftarah: Sing when you are Winning

by Rabbi Daniel Fine, Head of Tribe-sponsored Chachmei Angliyah,
learning-based summer programme in Israel for British students.

One event that stands out from my schooldays is the assembly in which we welcomed the new headmaster. I remember being made to line up in the playground in silence, after which each form was marched into the assembly hall – upon orders, of course. The new headmaster, ordering boys around with his megaphone, was obviously keen to stamp his authority early on. We were being shown, in no uncertain terms, that the headmaster was no pushover.

However, a bird had other ideas. Hovering above, the bird spotted its victim. The new headmaster’s kippah was severely dirtied. Our undeclared new school hero, the bird, summarily performed a lap of honour whilst chirping a victory tune. The seriousness of the occasion evaporated, and the sheer incongruity of the moment gave way to laughter all around.

This week’s Haftarah contains the song of Devorah the Prophetess, following the miraculous victory over Sisera’s forces. G-d had orchestrated a tremendous, ear-piercing noise which caused the enemy to panic and take full flight. The link to the sidrah is song - Devorah’s song is akin to the Song at the Sea of Reeds featured in our sidrah.

What is the concept of song? And why is the Torah itself called a ‘song’ (Devarim 31:19)? A song is the synthesis of disparate parts to form a unified whole. The beauty of an orchestra is the fusion of all the various instruments to produce one harmonious whole. This is why ‘song’ is called shirah – from the verbal root yashar (straight), connoting direction and purpose. The various parts are not random features. They purposefully contribute to the overall goal of the piece. This is why the Torah itself is called ‘a song’ – Torah connects the various parts of the world. It teaches us that there is no disparate randomness. Everything and every event is orchestrated by the Grand Conductor and His unified master plan.

When the Jewish People hailed freedom at the sea they looked back and saw that their slavery had propelled them to being able to connect to liberation. They understood that everything had been part of a unified plan. Similarly, when Devorah won the war and welcomed forty years’ peace she realised that the same war, which had initially threatened our nation’s very existence, was ultimately the cause of its tranquillity. The disparate parts had come together. Appropriately, they engaged in song.

Humour, as I experienced in the school playground, comes with incongruity, when things do not fit together. Security, prompting song, comes when unity of purpose is revealed.

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