Dancing Across the Water: Narratives of Redemption in Phish

Note to the reader: The following essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming Phish Talmud, and focuses on the last several songs from 12/30/09. Please see the side-notes for specific citations and related teachings. All cries of heresy should be directed here: Twitter and/or Facebook

Running on reserves. Have been for most of the show. The final wheeze of a shredded voice left my throat hours ago. There is literally is nothing left to do but smile. And as the organ tolls the loathsome (or is it inspirational?) introduction to “Hold Your Head Up,” the mood can only get sillier. The stage awash in blue, Jonathan “Moses” Fishman dismounts the bimah, as Mike joins in on temple-pounding bass and Trey picks up the sticks to keep the pace.

Fish holds one power fist high above his head and basks in the ensuing roar. We know that Phish understands the power of “Jewish fight songs,” and that the drummer is called Moses, so when Fish mimics the “HYHU” theme by throwing both hands in the sky, eliciting hysterics in the pews while subduing the enemies of all things good and true, it is no stretch to evoke this image from Exodus 17:11: “whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed.”

But wait. This is no time to grasp the vac. Did Fishman not give the “the last vacuum solo you will ever hear in the Aughts” two nights ago? What is going on here? Ah, but Moses was a man of truth, and so is Fish. “I’ve given this up for New Year’s,” he says, before Page eases into Syd Barrett’s “Love You,” a cover song first donned on Halloween 1987. “You see, I already played my last vacuum cleaner solo of ’09. Now, I’m not allowed to play it again, ‘cause otherwise that would mean we are liars. So is there anyone else here who knows how to play the vacuum cleaner?” Cue phreak-out. “Now you see, it’s not just anybody that knows how to play the vacuum cleaner. I need somebody who’s dressed like me. And that is you.” The Prince of Egypt extends his left limb with authority, pointer finger jabbing deep in the direction of a swath of rail-riding fans. “So will somebody help this gentleman up here?”

More hysteria. This is the sort of theatrical absurdity of which Phish fans dream, and take in mile-wide smiling stride when presented with it in reality. As a bearded bocher in khaki shorts, doughnut T-shirt and shoulder-length mane kicks his legs over the barrier and climbs on stage, I’m delighted to realize that the Phish of old — the one that spent its early years cultivating genuine concert intimacy even as the crowds and venues exponentially grew, the band that let fans decide which Halloween album to cover, that has a those-who-know-know secret musical language, that engaged in tour-long audience-engaging chess games, that left the fate of their musical excursions to the smacking accuracy of said audience via Big Ball Jams — that Phish is still here. Perhaps that band never left, but I spent my own early years wishing I coulda been there and seen that, never quite letting myself believe I would be able to participate in the making of Phishtory, or even witness such an event. A fan hopping on stage to play vacuum by request of His Royal Drumness? What year is this? And so Bernstein writes: “I can’t even explain the level of love coming from the crowd at this point. We were witnessing something…dare I say…epic and we enjoyed every single minute of it.” An Phishtoric occurrence indeed.

Stunts like this vacillate wildly between pre-planned prank and spontaneous revelry. Though this guy looks like a regular dude, plucked from the floor for wardrobe alone, when he sets the hose to his mouth, a suction solo of unexpected musicality and agility emerges. Who is this guy anyway? Did Fishman really pick him at random? How does he know to blow so? In the end, the answer doesn’t matter. The celebratory vibe has saturated this place beyond logic or discernment, and this interloper has blown away all doubt.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Rich!” says Fishman, sending the crowd into a renewed frenzy. “A man of great taste!” Recognizing the feat, and seemingly in shock, the drummer then bequeaths his famous vacuum to the surprise guest, who hoists the Electrolux overhead, declaring victory for all that is joyously absurd in the world.

As Rich returns to his seat, and is immediately etched into the collective lore, Trey, Mike and Page (yeah, they’re still onstage) slide back into the Argent cover, to which Fish responds by running laps around the amps and equipment, pausing center stage to bend the knee and bow in all directions. Meanwhile, the crowd heaps upon him voluminous praise.

Baruch HaShem, the show’s not yet over, and now we are totally free. This song reveals Phish’s arena-rock catharsis junkies, and though the music itself is all power riffs and zero self-consciousness and really only “average-great” in most 3.0 appearances, “Free” remains a lyrical dive into the deep sea. Coming on the heels of the interlude with Rich, and on a night that opened with “Soul Shakedown Party” no less, this performance echoes the Jazz Talmud, which teaches: “Vacuum cleaner or a hair-blower … is what the womb sounds like…” The sound a fetus hears is the emblematic sound of the spirit of Phish — that is, Fishman’s iconic Electrolux warblings — and is akin to the sound that inspired the band’s name itself, a sound that is in Jewish circles the equivalent of snapping at a poetry reading and almost always accompanies successful public delivery of innovative or insightful words of Torah, which makes sense because it is taught that not-yet-born babies have prophetic (in)sight and learn the entire Talmud in utero, only to forget everything on the way out. And this is the meaning and the mystery of “I feel the feeling I forgot / of swimming weightless in the womb.” Music, even on the level of the vacuum, brings it all back. Maybe not in concrete lessons or specific words, but song expands our awareness and gives rise to a palpable sensation. This is why the great elucidator of heimeshe bop prosody, jazz talmudist Jake Marmer sung/wrote/spoke/read:

…the way our 2 month old
goes from apocalyptic bawling
to happy smiles when
I put Bob Marley and the Wailers on
I think maybe
while studying Talmud
with angelic Vacuum Cleaner he was also
bopping in his private soul shakedown
party dream, heart thumping liquefied bass
rhythm guitar chirping like spirit’s matchstick
at the spinning wheel of eternity.

The wheels within wheels are certainly spinning. Forever before Ezekiel and forever after, round and round IT goes. On the surface, nothing more than the typical, repetitive crunch of earth, the well-worn terrain of psychedelic rock. Deeper though, it’s a reminder of every forgotten path. A reflection of every past version and vision of this song. Another addendum to the never-ending story. An allusion to that collective moment ‘twixt slavery and freedom, that ingathering of breath as the walls of water stood frozen and flashing by our sides, the power-tripping chariots of greed storming behind our backs. We must have understood that those walls made a womb. We must have seen that a new crazy world beckoned, because we walked calmly across the same ocean floor that soon swallowed Pharaoh’s army in a single gulp. As it says, “I see the path ahead of me / in a minute I’ll be free / and you’ll be splashing in the sea.”

On the flip side, after the sea resumed its raging, and our oppressors set to sinking, we sang. We were free. We are still free. To sing, to dance, to clap our hands, to give thanks, to smile. We are free to be ourselves. This is what the water-wall of music that is Phish reminds us: We are more than reflections of the Divine. We are connected directly to the Source of spiritual energy in the world. We can find G!d in the eyes and smiles of the people standing beside/before/behind us. It’s like Greenberg relayed about putting down his guitar to escape the soulless drudgery of running scales, after following Phish for a bunch of shows and then returning to the stage with his own band:

I discovered I had ability to harness the magical energy that had been bestowed upon me by Phish. I found it lurking all around the perimeters of my soul and it’s presence there comforted me in a way that many of you know but have not experienced applied in a musical setting. I felt relaxed and free from judgement, judgement from my self or others. … As I began to improvise I quickly realized that what I was feeling was being transmitted. I could see it in the audience member’s eyes. When I felt a tear welling up from my soul I could see it quickly glaze over the eyes of the person I was connecting to with my gaze. … Most every note that I played rang out in my head and from my amplifier simultaneously, creating a resonance between my soul and instrument. Creating spiritual overtones that could be perceived by uncharted sensory receptors in the audience.

Other phan commentators echo this sentiment — that the music sets the listener free — and as Phish soars into the peak of “Free,” I really let loose. Captivated but not captive, I chant along with the whole chevra: “Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…” This roaring praise is the opposite of the shattered groans that ascended to heaven and compelled God to set the Israelites free, and still I pray that it is likewise heard in supernal halls, that the covenant should not be forgotten, that every bent body should soon be set straight, every decree of darkness released.

Song follows song. At Phish shows and in the Torah, too. After safely crossing the sea-bed straits, Moses led the Israelites in song, and after singing the song, his sister the prophetess, Miriam, took up a tof, a timbrel, and sang for the women. Even after the worst of tribulations — perhaps especially after emerging from slavery — the beat of a drum and the hum of a voice were infectious. And so, all the holy imahot and banot grabbed their tambourines and began to dance the dance of freedom to the rhythm of faith. It does not say the song and dance ever ended. And truly, this became the custom of Jewish women throughout biblical times (see See Judges 11:34 and I Samuel 18:6), a practice that shall be renewed again in the great time of redemption (Jeremiah 31:3), as we recall every day in the morning liturgy when we read both the penultimate Psalm and the finale to King David’s opus (Psalms 149:3 and Psalms 150:4, respectively).

There are no coincidences. We were born to the daughters of those servant women, and we dance their dance today. The Phish merely facilitates this whirl of deliverance. So, of course, after “Free” comes “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” the Pharaoh-proof, dance-inducing ode to all the righteous phunky bitches, a beloved cover of the 1974 Stevie Wonder hit by the same name. A meaty bass line sends the arena reeling and then roaring, and lo, a visceral dance party is underway. Mike is our Miriam throughout this ancient ritual. Cavorting rapid-fire praise, the body — mimicking the bass — has no thought, no doubt, no apprehension, no argument, only glee. Trey sits back and comps rhythm. Fish holds court at his throne of myriad timbrels. Page lays the funky syrup on thick. All the while, the bass warbles and weaves its song into our toes and souls.

Or into mine, at least. I tend to lose myself at shows. Somehow, through physical moving all of my branches in every possible direction, I forget all about my body entirely. Its limits become expanses. Were the music to flow without interruption, or were this concert for an audience of one, I might still be dancing right now. (Un)fortunately, I’m surrounded by thousands of other bodies, minds and hearts tonight. “Quite the mind” is great advice for the person sitting alone in a dark room. And though I need only listen to the tune to remember why I am here, to renew focus and translate the prayers of my heart into the movements of my limbs, it’s quite easy to get distracted. Also, I look ridiculous. From the outside I must because every now and then, out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a couple yellow-shirt security guards, clearly not Hasidim of the Baal Shem Tov, gawking in my direction. There’s a whisper of self-consciousness in my head, but it’s gone with the wind of this funky joyride. I’m happy to share a laugh with the arena staff if it means they’re neglecting official duties and hassling fewer fans. Joke’s on them, I think, because this music is objectively a force for healing any disunity, internal and universal.

I’m dancing for my life, which is generally (i.e., outside of Phish and other music events) accompanied by persistent, underlying anxiety related to the threat (real or imagined) of public embarrassment. I’m dancing because maybe this will be the night when for good all the walls finally fall. When the circle will be unbroken. I have no horn and no harp, no lyre and no lute, no pipe and no cymbal. But I do have breath, and I can dance. So in and out I breathe, and around and around I spin, playing the instrument of my self. At times my upper body writhes in rhythm with the music, a physical mirror of the kaleidoscopic sound that makes me look like a fan-powered AirDancer in the used-car lot of my soul. Sneer or jeer, and I will only twist and tumble farther. Other times my body traces the shape of praise held by the hands of our holy mothers, a holistic circle dance of joy from being subsumed in the all-inclusive One. In both cases, my movements are ancient prayers and links in the chain of tradition.

Secular rock concert though it may be, this place is a sanctuary. Sexy, devotional ‘70s funk updated for the digital age is just a new iteration of Old Country klezmer, which was brewed in the sacred-and-profane stew of medieval Jewish dance halls, which grew in (and then fled from) the synagogues, which hosted music-filled and dance-soaked weddings that recalled the joyous services of the ancient Temple, where the Levites played as the people prayed. Engulfed in this primal “Fish Dance,” my body sweeps across swaths of history because there really is nothing new under CK5’s lights.

Phish, 12/30/09, photo by @DorielleBrooke

Out of joy I dance, and then my dance uncovers even deeper storehouses of simcha (joy) and connects me back to the archetypal ecstatic Jewish dance party, the ancient “Water-Drawing Ceremony” during Sukkot, at which the greatest sages and religious leaders of the time, “the pious and the men of action would dance” and party down like never seen before or since (see Talmud Sukkah 51a and 53a). Though this ritual included actual “water drawing,” the celebratory nature of the event itself drew down otherwise unattainable levels of divine inspiration, which then “infused [the participants] with a boundless joy.” So, I dance till my cheeks just about burst, and then I keep going, and I wonder what those yellow-shirted ushers think as I stare at them starting at me. Disquiet about their suspected judgment has crept across far too much mental real estate, so I try once again to pull them into my motion by way of telekinesis. It’s unclear if this works. I am still no Jedi. I have yet to turn social anxiety before figments of earthly “authority” into a sacred trembling before the heavenly Host of hosts.

In the following fall, on the floor in divine Providence, R.I., I will learn a secret of Jewish dance. Seven rows back, center stage, a wide-eyed bro grinds his teeth between gulps of beers. He takes every opportunity to yell at the band, and his proclamations grow increasingly unintelligible as the night goes on. And yet, when he turns around to scan the crowd for social approval, I shoot back a big smile because I’m at Phish and his gibberish is pure joy to my ears. Dude immediately commences to cling, and now “the simple smile and good times seem all wrong” because he beams a stale wind in my direction, raises his right hand for a high-five and connects palm-to-palm with his new best friend. Just say no? I can’t. He is blood-shot for attention. I am prone to distraction and bouts of empathy. It is a perfect storm of social anxiety. Song break pep talks turn into mid-jam glarings when I try to keep my head above the black clouds. I’m dancing hard, but he persists, spewing inanities until I respond with more than just a friendly smile. Finally, deep in the insanity of a second-set “Sanity,” when the bro leers and then stumbles my way for another dose of humanity, I don’t stop in my tracks, and neither do I reject his strangling need for attention. Instead, I grab his hands and pull him in. No words need to be said. His eyes soften, and the garbled commentary dries up. For the first time all night, he is flowing in and with the music. For the first time since he found his long-lost only friend, my soul can dance freely. Our circle spins for a mere minute. Maybe two. Afterward, the high five is more of a man-to-man handshake. He seems, for once, to lack all language. As the next song starts, he melts into the crowd. I never see him again.

Later, I learn this is a bona fide Hasidic practice: to pull people into the circle. To invite the darkness in and thereby turn it into light. To (re)connect the disconnected. It’s similar to Phish’s improvisational practice circles of lore — the Oh Kee Pa ceremonies and the “Including Your Own Hey” exercises — and the arrangement of band members during “special” sets, which typically present the band in its “purest” form and recall the primordial foundation of a lasting group mission and identity.

We can listen to and uplift all the warring voices by arranging ourselves into a circle because, like the Baal Shem Tov taught, in this arrangement everyone is equally connected and through this connection made equal. No day on the Jewish calendar embodies this Hasidic principle more than Simchat Torah, the finale of the High Holy Day season when, rather than sitting and learning or eating a festive meal, we celebrate our foundational text’s circular nature by reading its end and its beginning and ritually dancing around the synagogue in seven communal circles while singing joyous songs, as alluded to in the song “Mound.” The circumnavigatory dance of Simchat Torah is as ecstatic and exhausting as the boogie of a fan at Phish. Maybe more so.

For me, the two scenes once converged. Jerusalem in the new symmetrical year 5775. Rav Raz Hartman’s holy community, V’Ani Tefillah, is doing Hakafah Shlishi, its third collective circle. I’m already spent from the first two. Totally wiped out. But there are four more to go and I’m committed to seeing this day of dance through. I need a breather, so I detach from the circle of humanity and rest beside its still-rotating edge. All around, people are engaged in physical prayer and lofty song, and since it’s a holiday, I have no phone in my pocket to distract myself. Instead, I open my siddur to further explore the brief prayer associated with this particular circuit. Nose in the prayer book, I nearly mistake a gentle double-tap on my shoulder for a passing accident. But something compels me to look up, and when I do, a wide-smiling dancer points at my knit Phish kippah with a thumbs-up and, still freewheeling by in the circle, reaches down and pulls up a pant leg, revealing blue-and-red donut socks a la Fishman.

A story is told about a certain fiery Hasidic leader:

One Simchat Torah eve, the Rebbe watched his faithful dance holding the scrolls of the law. ‘That’s not the way to dance!’ he commented, looking angry. To please him, they started over again, this time with more fire. ‘No,’ he said, annoyed, ‘that’s not how one dances.’ After several more failures, the Hasidim froze into an attitude of waiting. And the Rebbe exploded: ‘Imagine yourselves on a mountain peak, on a razor’s edge, and now: dance, dance, I tell you!’ Difficult? No matter! Who says that to be a man means to keep one’s balance? Who says that to be a Jew is to accept oneself and submit? ‘Let the heart fly into pieces,’ he roared, ‘let the shoulders come unhinged, let heaven and earth collapse, but man must not stray from his path!’ Obstacles are unimportant. On the contrary, the more of them, the greater the merits of trying. Little does it matter if, going from discovery to discovery, one comes up against an unknown God, a God who does not compromise; one must continue one’s quest, and nothing else counts.

That rebbe, the Kotzker, likely would have torn me to shreds for standing off to the side to preserve my strength. What’s the point of breathing if there is no heaving struggle to expand your lungs? I’d forgotten the Ten Commandments of Phish in that moment, so G!d sent a helping friendly yid to remind me of the obligation to run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run like an antelope out of control.

If any spiritual thesis can be derived from the massive, ongoing cultural project that is Phish, it is contained in one of their oldest and most iconic songs, penned by the group’s unofficial third Jewish member, enigmatic sage the Dude of Life: “Set the gear shift for the high gear of your soul! You’ve got to run like an antelope, out of control!”

Though no recording exists, the presumed debut of “Run Like An Antelope” took place on April 6, 1985 — that is, the first night of Passover 5745, when Jews are commanded to tell the story of our redemption from Egypt. In Vermont then, and in Miami 24 years later, the late second-set “Antelope” is a narrative echo of the Jewish people’s journey out of slavery and into the wilderness of freedom and Divine service. After all, Passover is not the only time we remember the Exodus. Rather, it is recalled throughout our daily liturgy, most importantly in the Shema prayer. As if to emphasize the song’s connection to the biblical record, Trey reprises the melodic line from Stevie Wonder’s dance psalm during the intro to this beloved anthem, literally weaving “Antelope” into the redemptive tale begun with “Free” and “Boogie On.” After slavery comes freedom, after freedom comes praise through song and dance, after praise comes arduous, electrifying spiritual work.

The antelope is a potent Jewish symbol describing the relationship between Jew and Creator, that makes regular appearances in rabbinic teachings and ancient Jewish Scripture, texts and prayers. In the final verse of Solomon’s epic love song, Shir HaShirim, the narrator (some say the nation of Israel) tells his beloved (some say G!d) to “run like an antelope” and end the long exile, bring about redemption. Elsewhere in Jewish tradition, the animal is associated with music, joy and redemption. Quoted in Pirkei Avot (5:20), an authoritative collection of Mishnaic teachings known as Wisdom of Our Fathers, Judah Ben Teima says: “Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, fleeting as a gazelle [ratz k’tzvi] and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” The Hebrew phrase ratz k’tzvi can be literally translated as: “Run like an antelope.”

On Shakedown Street in Alpharetta in 2013, I found a T-shirt depicting this sacred precept as only a fan-made Lot shirt can. On it a split-hoofed antelope grasps a set of tablets with the following words adorned upon the stone:

Several aspects of the shirt are reflected in the Scripture. The illustrated antelope’s “hands” bare a striking resemblance to the live-long-and-prosper finger-formation used by the kohanim during the priestly blessing. Remarkably, this ritual, known as the “raising of the hands,” is derived from a commentary on a verse from Shir HaShirim: “My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart; behold, he stands behind our wall, he looks in through the windows, he peers through the lattice” (2:9). The “beloved” here is understood to be God, while the “lattice” is likened to the priests’ fingers. Rashi says that God resembles a gazelle in “the swiftness of his running,” and he comments on the carbon-copy mentions of “your two breasts are like two fawns, the twins of a gazelle” (4:5 and 7:4) as referring either to the Ten Commandments (which come in five corresponding pairs) or to the “king and the high priest,” hence the shirt’s motifs of priesthood and God-given tablets, and the tenfold reminder to “run.”

I’m not a Kohen, but the wild motions of my dancing hands are in part meant to energetically send blessing to the people rejoicing all around me. Coming so late in a wondrous show, this “Antelope” should be the death of me. Would be the death of me if I stopped to think. As it is, my hands conduct a symphony of good vibes, my feet trample the earth while running-jumping-flying in place, my mind is filled only with blazing beams of light. Holy, convulsive exhaustion. From the outside, I must look completely out of control. Inside, this chaotic motion is pure intention.

The Zohar says:

Only one creature in the world acts like the gazelle. As it runs away it goes slowly at first and turns its head back to watch the place it has left. Its head keeps turning back. “Likewise, Master of the Universe,” implores Israel, “if we make you turn away from us, fly likewise as the gazelle, its head turning back to watch the place it has left.”

The Blessed Antelope’d One, swinging its head side-to-side, backward and forward, appears totally unbridled. Perhaps even crazed. Like the Phish.net says: “Antelopes, graced with momentum and nimbleness usually run under control, unless they are under attack by a predator. Under attack, they are twisting and turning, tensing and wild eyed and frenzied, running faster and faster and faster.” And this is exactly the prayer of Israel. The vision of the gazelle running rampant is confirmation that God sees and hears the nation’s insufficient dance-prayer and, even in parting, even in the bitter moment of exile, wants only to turn back and gaze once more in mutual longing.

Call this dance the Erratic Ecstatic. Call it ridiculous and silly. Call it Hasidic, for it is said that the Baal Shem Tov’s body shuddered in every direction when he prayed. Call it Jewish, for the story of our historic and spiritual galut is: We were set a-tremor to the four corners, yet strive to remain unified at the center. By dancing wildly, by running like an antelope, we pray that God will do the same, and then, having seen our destitution, swiftly return to redeem us.

But the Master of the World will only return if we cry out, if we make ourselves heard. And first things first, God cannot hear us if we cannot hear each other. The Talmud says not listening to our earthly study partners, to our friends, also causes the Divine Presence to flee like the antelope. On the other hand, when we hear each other out, God also hears us, too (see Talmud Shabbat 63a).

So it is when the star-churning chords of this Phish classic ring out across the audience, initiating another theurgic dance. Here again is another chance to listen to our souls’ favorite music, to let our souls out for a dance, to really hear the music being gifted to us from the Heavens by way of the mortals on stage, to give it back in a bond of mutual exchange, and thereby to cause the Divine Presence to turn Its gaze our way.

Mere minutes later, by the jam’s tread-burning peak, I catch mid-spin sight of those two Yellow Shirts, their scoffs now erased and replaced with fat smiles, their full bodies engaged in our collective, ritualistic gallop. They must have finally heard the origin of all this commotion. They must have turned their ears and been immediately swept out to sky and sea.

In a searing snap, the band lands back on earth, coming together in a reggae embrace. Trey shreds the “Boogie On” solo once more and then delivers the initial lyric section (the nonsense part written by Tom Marshall) with a comedic nod to Rich’s earlier vacuum solo. And then, we get the “runs” and the band delivers its spiritual gut-punch: “Set the gear shift for the high gear of your soul! You’ve got to run like an antelope, out of control!” Though dank vibes already permeated the arena, we are now swimming, says the Phish.net, in a “euphoric level of energy felt by all.” This is the secret of setting the gearshift and running like an antelope: We trip heavenward to escape the drudgery of life, but we must always run back to the sweat and dirt of this earth.

A daf of Phish Talmud

We rarely reap the full benefit of our toil, but it would be a shame to sit idly by. The tears that flow from slavery are bitter, but the life flowing through our veins is infinitely sweet. We run to escape tyrannical oppressors only to commit our lives to servitude of higher Source. We commune with the Divine for 40 years in the desert, and then we have to do the hard work of conquering and settling the land. We dance like we’re possessed, and then the lights come up and we must emerge and remerge with the straight world. For many, this can be a crash-and-burn comedown. But those who know, know that you can dance without making a single motion, that you can pray without opening your lips, that every intersection is an opportunity to turn toward the good while never losing sight of the place from which we came.

The Exodus happens at every moment. Even now, the wind blows high, the salt spray is on our face, and spread before us is a sea pregnant with possibility. Just so, thousands of years ago, we stood by the banks of our freedom. And we were terrified. And nothing happened. And we were even more terrified. We began to bicker. No one wanted to step up. A mighty wind was not miraculous enough to part the way. It seemed human action was the missing ingredient, yet still we fought each other. Meanwhile, one man began to crawl down the rocks and wade into the water. Rabbi Zoë Klein says that he sang. When the water licked his feet, he sang. When his shins and knees were submerged, he sang. Water hugging his torso, his voice grew louder. At his throat, he really dug into the tune. Ocean splashing into his eyes, still his mouth was open in song, and it was then that the sea split, allowing the slaves to cross into the unknown. Through unbounded faith. Through limitless song.

Says Rabbi Klein:

Music is a sea that engulfs us and transports us in beauty, drowns us in emotion. It is an immersion that heals rather than kills, that opens new pathways even through impossible seas. Music and singing harmonize the contrasting parts of our spirit. Whereas words label things and discern this from that, music envelops both our sorrow and our hope at once, unifying us, bringing us closer to the Divine.

The Exodus can happen at any moment.

So how do we make the waters split? Step in, one toe at a time, wave your hands to the clouds, sing your song, boogie on a step forward, shimmy a few more, keep singing, and then you shall be “freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”