Song at the Sea

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Beshallach
Maqam Ajam (B flat C D E flat)

Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure called a *maqam,
Arabic cognate to Hebrew maqom, Place.

The Philosopher Avicenna (d. 1037)
Identified 12 principal modes
Or maqamat
Singular maqam
From “place” (Arabic) Hebrew cognate Maqom.

Ethical and cosmological implications
Signs of zodiac
Times of day and night
Poetic meter
Healings and treatments,

Each Torah portion is associated with a musical figure —


After the Sea of Reeds
for the first time in a long time
the Egyptians are no longer a threat.
Ahead of us, the Wilderness,
many hurdles to cross
and on the way to the mountain
four more crises.

Three days into the wilderness of Shur
no water. [15:22 ff.]
We came to Marah, cannot drink the water, bitter.
Mah Nishteh — what do we drink?
Moses turned around and cried out
God showed him a piece of wood
it is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it
Moses threw the piece of wood into the water
and the water turned sweet.
God reminded us
I am Hashem, your healer,
drink me.

Six weeks after leaving Egypt
no food. [16:3 ff.]
If only we had died in Egypt
fleshpots and bread, so good.
Hashem provides, we don’t have to ask
bread — each day just enough
on the sixth day a double portion

Manna, fine and flaky,
as fine as frost on the ground. [16:14]
What is this stuff?
It’s from God, Moses said,
you will always gather just what you need.

Third problem –
we camped at Rephidim, no water. [17:1 ff.]
quarreling with Moses.
We are close now,
this the last stop.
Why did you bring us out from there, to die here?
We couldn’t die there?
Massah and Meribah,
we quarreled and we rebelled,
Is Hashem here among us, or –

Last problem: Amalek. [17:8 ff.]
Different kind of enemy
our problems are both inner and outer.
The first — the Egyptians
the last — Amalek.
We will come to wish all our problems were so outer.

In the interior is ourselves
— the water, the food, attitude —
we have met the inner enemy, it is us.

Our problems are lucky to have us
our devotion to them is endless.

jsg, usa