Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have
(Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”
As we walked through the waters of the Sea of Reeds, passing from Egyptian slavery into the wilderness of freedom, we sang: Ozi v’zimrat Yah, va-y’hi li l’yeshua—God is my strength and my song, and has become my liberation! We recall—and re-live—that transformative journey every Shabbat morning, singing anew each week our own way from narrowness toward redemption.
In his aptly-name and beautiful book The Torah of Song, Joey Weisenberg notes that the Hebrew word in this verse signifying “song”—zimrat—also connotes “pruning” or even “fighting.” Thus the passage presents the Holy as our sacred melody but also our cutting force. Fascinatingly, this seems to be the case for almost all Hebrew musical terms; Weisberg points out that the word shir—a song or poem—is related to the word for “wrestling” (as in Israel/Yisrael, or one who wrestles with God) and the term for melody—niggun—also evokes images of the shield and fortress (as in Magen David).
All of this reminds us that music is a powerful tool for liberation.
This week, we celebrate Pesach, known in Hebrew as z’man cherutaynu—the season of our freedom. I pray that every one of us enjoys a seder filled with songs of joy and celebration—and that those songs renew our strength and commitment to work for liberation in the United States, in Israel, and in a world that is in dear need of redemption.
In the meantime, enjoy—and take inspiration from—Bob Marley’s classic “Redemption Song”:
Chag Sameach—A Sweet and Joyful Pesach!