The primary antidote against isolation is the voice. The seemingly simple offering of conscious, intentional sound outside of oneself into the world is, even when expressing pain, a sign of great hope, as the act itself insists on someone or something to receive that sound. Judaism establishes the power of the voice from the very beginning, as Torah describes the spoken word as the vehicle by which God creates the entire universe. When God desires to create a space other than God's Own Self, God does so by intoning words: "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."(Genesis 1:2) It is notable too that the first time our ancestors collectively connect to God in Torah (albeit seemingly unintentionally), they do so through their voices: "…and the Israelites groaned from the bondage and cried out, and their plea from the bondage went up to God." (Ex. 2:23) And by the time our ancestors stand free and redeemed on the opposite side of the Reed Sea's shore, they vocalize their expression to God, this time intentionally and directly, through song! “Then Moses did sing, and all the Israelites with him, this song to Adonai….” (Exodus 15:1)
Indeed, the evolution of our ancestor’s pain and suffer-filled groans to their faith-filled, freedom’s song reflects not only their journey from slavery to freedom and redemption, but also their evolving relationship with the Divine.
At its best, the Seder holds this same potential for us. In fact, the Mishnah envisioned the Seder's entire thematic arc to encompass just such an evolution: that we should begin with degradation and end with praise. (Pesachim 10:4) And as Jews, there is no better way to express praise but through song.
So much of the Passover Seder is written in poetic verse or has evolved over time to be voiced in song. Of course, we are familiar with the traditional melody of the Four Questions, the repetitive rhythm of the recitation of the Ten Plagues, the singing of Dayeinu, and the rousing “song-fest” that encompasses the conclusion of the Seder itself*, just to name a few places where the actual telling of the story occurs in song.
The other major song of the Seder is, of course, Hallel. Hallel, made up primarily of Psalms, flanks the Seder meal, creating central foundations of “Songs of Praise” anchoring the entire Seder experience. Its recitation or singing is introduced by the following passage:
Therefore we owe it to God: to thank, to sing, to praise and honor,
to glorify and bless, to raise up and acclaim
the One who has done all these wonders for our ancestors and for us.
God took us from slavery to freedom,
from sorrow to joy,
from mourning to festivity,
from thick darkness to great light,
from enslavement to redemption!
Let us sing before God, a new song:
(introduction to Hallel "lfichach..." as translated by Noam Zion).
When we read this, we place ourselves in our ancestors’ shoes, and we rejoice for the redemption they experienced. But when we include ourselves in the subject of the text, as it reads, ‘God took us…”, we come to see that not only are we celebrating the redemption our ancestors experienced, but we might also be singing out praise for every redemptive experience we’ve had and even the Redemption yet to come. If the text were only referring to the Exodus redemption, a more appropriate conclusion to the passage above would be to use Exodus 15:1, “then Moses sang…” Instead, we are called to sing before God; and our song is not to be one that has been sung before, but a new one!
So our ancestors sang. Not just those at the Reed Sea, but every generation that has come before us. So must we. To sing is to enliven the spirit of Redemption that our ancestors experienced. To sing is to connect to the generations between then and now in a way that insists that we have come from deep and nourished roots. To sing is to tap into the most profound yearnings of our soul and offer those melodies into the harmony that abounds from the voices of countless others. To sing is to know what true freedom really means. To sing is to hope. To sing is to affirm that we are not alone. To sing is to be redeemed.