In Jewish tradition, the entire Bible is divided up into 54 sections, one of which is read every Shabbat (during two Shabbats, two portions are read). The parsha for this week is from Beshalach and contains “Shirat HaYam,” the “Song of the Sea.” This day is also known as Shabbat Shira, Sabbath of Song. This “Song of the Sea” is a song of celebration supposedly sung when the Israelites crossed over the Red Sea and landed victoriously on the other side, free at last from their bondage in Egypt.
The “Song of the Sea” (one of the oldest poems in the Bible) is also one of two places where the format of the text is radically different from the rest of the Torah. It is often described as looking like bricks or, perhaps even more metaphorically, that it looks as if there is a wall of water on the right, a wall of water on the left, and the Israelites marching through the center (see image above).
Whatever one’s feelings are about the existence of a God or the literal truths of the Bible, one thing is enormously powerful to me. It is the notion of Crossing the Sea, of moving from one hard place to maybe yet another wilderness to cross, but one where there is a sense of liberation and direction. It signifies a deliberate moving, a place of transition, a journey of transformation.
Crossings are never easy—fraught with fear, expectation, and memory. But the promise of crossings holds celebration. Serendipitously or divinely arranged, all crossings are sacred.