This week I learned that there are differing views as to when the Israelites sang the Song. At the end of the Song comes Shemot 15:19, which reads:
"When Pharoah's cavalry came with his chariots and horsemen into the sea and Hashem turned back the waters of the sea upon them, the Children of Israel walked on the dry land amid the sea."
According to Ibn Ezra, this verse is part of the Song; the crossing of the Israelites is included in the list of miracles that Hashem performed for the Israelites. However, other commentators (including Ramban and Sforno) offer a different view. They hold that this verse came after the Song, and therefore the Jews sang the Song while they were still in the process of crossing the sea. I can see the validity of both positions, but personally I prefer the latter. The idea that after all their years of slavery--years in which their bodies and spirits were pushed to the breaking point, years in which they nearly lost all hope--the Israelites still had within them the power of song, strikes me as poignant and powerfully moving. Despite all their anxiety and fear, the Jews recognized that they were on a journey of liberation, and so they celebrated even before their passage was complete. From this we can learn a valuable example of how to keep our inner song alive through difficult times, and how to emerge from periods of personal darkness with our voices strong.
Personally, I found that the darkness of my eating disorder was accompanied by silence--both external and internal. Not only could I no longer hear my own song, but I also had lost the ability to express myself in any way other than monotone. Singing (or at least singing well) requires emotions and a sense of connectivity to the present moment and the world at large. Recovery is about reopening those channels of connection and reawakening emotions from the eating disorder-induced state of dormancy. I know that I often found this process a bit overwhelming, and it was frightening to get back in touch with the power of my own song (who was I to try to add my voice to this world?!)...but what I discovered is that my song had never really gone away--I just had to release the "mute" button. I find that to be both comforting and remarkable...the idea that despite everything, my heart never forgot the words to its own song and was just waiting to be allowed to sing once more.
Just as the Israelites did not wait to finish crossing the sea before they began singing, neither should any of us believe that we must be "done" with recovery before we can begin to use our own voices. What merits celebration is not only the finish line, but also the journey--the willingness to take step after step in faith toward a fuller, more authentic life.
One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver, who explores this theme of the resilience of the inner song in several of her poems in the collection, Red Bird. I'm including here one that I particularly love...I hope it resonates with some of you, as well!
I will try
I will try.
I will step from the house to see what I see
and hear and I will praise it.
I did not come into this world
I came, like red bird, to sing.
But I'm not red bird, with his head-mop of flame
and the red triangle of his mouth
full of tongue and whistles,
but a woman whose love has vanished,
who thinks now, too much, of roots
and the dark places
where everything is simply holding on.
But this too, I believe, is a place
where God is keeping watch
until we rise, and step forth again and--
but wait. Be still. Listen!
Is it red bird? Or something
inside myself, singing?