Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beshalach
To dedicate this lesson

What is poetry?


Rabbi Yisrael Wende

Shvat 5773
When Am yisrael crossed Yam Suf, the Red Sea, Moshe and the nation sang "Az Yashir". This song is not the only song in Torah, another famous song "Ha'azinu" in Dvarim (Deuteronomy). What is poetry? What is different in these verses from the rest of the verses in the Torah?
We define a song by rimes or reading text with music. "Az Yashir" has no rimes and although its read in Shul with a special tune, the "Te'amim" are like the rest of the Torah. Why then "Az Yashir" is a song or poetry, or maybe we should ask what is a poetry?
The main difference between "Az Yashir" and the rest of the Torah is the way it's written. Most of the Torah verses are written in sequence, without spaces between words. However, in "Az Yashir" there are large spaces between words, and the combination of the number of words in each group and the space between the group reminds a brick wall. Ha'azinu's structure is different, but the principle of the spaces remains - the text is written in two columns, with a blank space in between.
Do these spaces define poetry? Does the blank sheet between the words give them a different meaning?
Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (11th century) was a well-known poet. Although he wrote classical poetry, in his book "Kuzari", he writes that good poetry isn’t characterized by beautiful words or rimes, but by conveying an idea beyond the words. Those who read good poetry should feel as if they can see poet and what he saw.
When Am Yisrael crossed the Red Sea, they reached a high spiritual level, somting that can not be described in words. "Az Yashir" comes from this high experience with an attempt to convey this to the reader. Because words can not contain the virtue of that great experience, it's written between the lines, in the spaces between words.
When we read "sAz Yashir" every day, and especially when read from the Torah in Parashat Beshalach, we should listen to the gaps, to the silence of the Cantor between verses, hear the idea that can not be expressed in words.
In the silence, everyone can try to hear the voices of the Red Sea and in the blank spaces to imagine how it was, as if he is standing there and can see it all in his eyes. If we try to live the song, the white spaces might be filled with lights of prophecy
את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר