Shirat Ha-Yam 4
“Then Mosheh and the Children of Israel sang this song [Hebrew: “shirah”]…” [1]
[thereafter known as “Shirah” — “The Song” or “Shirat ha-Yam” — “The Song at the Sea”].

The importance of this event is shown by the many ways we’re reminded of it.

In the Beit ha-Mikdash, during the Shabbat afternoon Tamid (perpetual offering), the choir of L’vi’im (“Levites”) sang the Shirat ha-Yam “antiphonally” (i.e. one part of the choir “calling,” the other part “answering” or “repeating”). [2]

In the annual cycle of parshiyot or sidrot (Torah readings), this is read during parshah “B’shallach,” which will occur (this year) next Shabbat (1/26). Unlike most other shabbatot, however, rather than the name being based on the title of the parshah being read (i.e. “Shabbat B’shallach”), it’s named “Shabbat Shirah” — because of the special importance of that particular part of the reading.

“Shirat ha-Yam” is also part of the special Torah-reading for the 7th day of Pesach (Passover).

In Torah, our attention is especially attracted to it because it’s written with a special calligraphic layout that’s often reproduced in chumashim (Torah in book-form, separated into the weekly readings) and even siddurim (prayerbooks).

calligraphic layout

It’s described as “half bricks over whole bricks” [3]. I’ve also heard it described as “two columns [of water] through which the Israelites [i.e. the middle column] are walking. [4] The Talmud clearly specifies the style required to be used in the writing. [5

There are other “songs of deliverance” in TaNaCh, too.

“[A ‘Shirah’ is] a song that proclaims the perception of the hand of G-d in the course of events.” [6]

The special calligraphic layout associated with “Shirat ha-Yam” — our oldest poem of deliverance — is also used for writing later “poems of deliverance” in TaNaCh: Mosheh’s song (D’varim 32:1-43), D’vorah’s song (Shof’tim/Judges 5:1-31), and Tehillim/Psalm 18. “D’vorah’s song” also forms part of the haftarah of Shabbat Shirah — the “deliverance” theme being re-emphasized by the repetition of the special calligraphic style employed by both. (If, as some historians say, the haftarot came into use during a period when Torah-reading itself was forbidden, then we can see an additional reason for reading “D’vorah’s song” on this Shabbat: the calligraphic layout is the reminder of that of  “Shirat ha-Yam.”)

In the traditional liturgy, the “Shirah” is read daily at the end of the “P’sukei d’Zimra” section of the Shachrit (“morning”) service. When it’s read aloud, a special “nusach” or melody is used. [*]

The Shirah is important not only for what happened in the past, but for its resonance in our lives forever into the future:

“…in reciting the passages about ‘K’ri’yat Yam Suf‘ in our daily Morning Prayer, we do not merely recount that important historic event, but also reaffirm our trust in G-d.” [7]

Reading “Shirat ha-Yam,” we reaffirm that G-d’s “hand” is in all events; that G-d rules over nature itself; that G-d is able to do absolutely anything.

Then — we can trust.

(for continuation of discussion, see:


[1] Shemot/Ex. 15:1-18, followed by a shorter song sung by Miriam and the women (15:20-21).
Full text and translation:

[2] See JPS commentary, pp. 76-77; further citation needed

[3] Shabbat 103b; see also the footnote in the Soncino edition of that page.
Further, see: Kolatch, Alfred J.; This is the Torah; Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.; p. 113.
Megillah 16b — “All the songs (in Scripture) are written in the form of a half brick over a whole brick…”

[4; I’ve heard this elsewhere, too.

[5] Sofrim 12:10

[6] Hirsch, Rabbi S.R.; The Hirsch Psalms; © 1977 by Phillip Feldheim, Inc.; p. 116

[*] Siddurim (prayerbooks) with an extended commentary (e.g. the Hirsch Siddur) can be excellent sources of commentary on the Shirah, supplementing those found in chumashim (Torah in book/weekly format).

[7] Mindel, Rabbi Nissan; As for Me — My Prayer; Merkos L’inyunei Chinuch, Inc., 1975; p. 133