This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song. The Torah reading includes the Song of Moses (Az Yashir) and the Song of Miriam (Shiru L’Adonai), followed by the Haftarah (readings from the Prophets), the song of the prophet Deborah. All three of these songs praise the Holy One for rescuing our ancestors.
Moses’ and Miriam’s songs occur after the miracle of the Red Sea splitting, allowing us to pass across in safety. Once on the other side, after Pharaoh’s army drowned in the raging, closing waters, the Israelites sang and danced in praise of God, after witnessing the great wonders leading to their freedom.
This miraculous event is so important in our national history that we remember it at every service, whether weekly, Shabbat, or Holy Day. In the service, it comes just before the Amidah (T’fila), the central prayer service. As Chumash Etz Hayim teaches, the message of its placement is that “prayers may well be answered (in our own time), as they were for our ancestors at the shores of the sea.”
These songs, including the poetry of the prophet Deborah, emphasize both the power and the closeness of God. God is portrayed as a Warrior, fighting off our enemies. For those feeling weak, sick, or vulnerable, the image of the Holy One as “my strength and might” brings comfort.
The core chant (in my opinion) of Moses’ song is the line, “Alohei avi v’ah-ro-m’mehn-hu”, “God is my Parent, whom I will exalt.” When we chant this line, we aren’t speaking only of the past. Every generation must discover God’s presence in our own lives, and notice the daily miracles God still works in our lives.