Complain. Whine. Mutter. See miracles. Complain. Whine. Mutter. See miracles. Complain. Whine. Mutter. Rebel. Suffer the consequences. Complain some more anyway. Complain. Whine. Mutter. See miracles.
Sensing a pattern here?
In the midst of it all, Miriam dies. All of sudden, there's no water. (Others have built on this juxtaposition far more eloquently than I ever could-suffice it to say it's probably more than mere coincidence.) And, being out of water, what do the people do.
Complain. Whine. See Moses fail to follow instructions but still produce a miracle. (Why did G''d still allow Moshe's incorrect action in striking, rather than speaking to the rock, bring forth water? Well, it is comforting to know that G''d puts the necessity of the survival of the people over and above Moshe's inability to follow directions. Had the water not come forth, it's quite likely to have added fuel to the fire of discontent, and possibly bring about further insurrection against Moses. Might look bad for G''d if G''d's chosen leader were overthrown (or G''d having to intervene yet again to prevent that. And if plagues, earthquakes, floods and more aren't enough to keep the people on the straight and narrow, would making an example of Moses have much effect?)
In this parasha, we also get the red heifer, and the death of Aharon. Followed by a brief victory against the Canaanites.
The people sojourn a bit more, and finally come to Be'er, a well, and oasis. And finally, they do something they haven't done since crossing the sea. They rejoice and sing as a community. (vv 21.16-18.) And introduced with similar language as the song of the sea:
Az yashir Yisrael et hashirah hazot. And then Israel sang this song.
And guess what follows this "community sing." A bunch of victories in a row, as the people set out to move into the land promised them as part of G''d's covenant. And this continues in what would normal be the next parasha, Balak, although this is a year when the portions are combined to adjust for the vagaries of the Hebrew calendar. We get the whole story of Balak and Bilaam, and it's all rather positive outcome. And the people are so fired up now, that a certain Pinchas decides, at the very end of parashat Balak, to impale an Israelite who was making it with a Midianite woman. But more on that next week.
So what does this mean, this community sing? And why so long between such outbursts? Was the trek through the wilderness that awful? And, even if it was, might not it have been lightened up a bit with song - you know, "whistle while you walk" or perhaps, in this case, "whistle while you sin."
Now, both these "community sings" come after a time of hardship, and are expressions of thanks to G''d, and thanks in general. And in both cases, the singing girded the peopl for what was to come. It gave them new drive, new intensity.
Anyone who has ever participated in a shira session - at camp, synagogue, youth retreat, kallah, conference, and so on - knows the power of so many voices joined together, singing praise, singing joy, even singing pain and sorrow.
So why don't we do it more? Why does it only seem to happen at these certain times and places (both in the Torah, and in our own times?) When's the last time your community got together for a community sing? And I'm not talking as part of services. I mean just singing. For the heck of it. For community building. For praise. For solidarity. For comfort. For protection.
Ali b'eyr - enu lah. Spring up, O well - sing to her.
Rise up, people - and sing. Let us continually write our own stories that begin "az yashir Yisrael..."
©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
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