Twice in the bible, we are told that the Children of Israel sang a song (to G-d.) The first time was after they had crossed the Red Sea on dry land:

אָ֣ז יָשִֽׁיר־מֹשֶׁה֩ וּבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙

“Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song.”

In this week’s parasha, forty years later, when they have re-experienced the miracle of the water of the well they sing, once again:

אָ֚ז יָשִׁ֣יר יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את

“Then Israel sang this song.”

What is the difference between these songs?

On the first occasion, they sang the song together with Moses. Indeed, according to the Talmud they had to be led in the song. Moses sang a section, and they responded. He sang another section and they responded. Without Moses prompting them, they would have been unable to express themselves.

Now, forty years later, they have developed. They have matured, and they are able to sing their own song independently without the need for Moses to provide them with the words and tune.

It is significant that prior to this episode, we read of the death of Miriam and then, of the death of Aaron. The Jewish people were on the threshold of the Promised Land. Maybe they sensed already that Moses was not going to lead them into the land of Israel. The Torah is emphasizing to us that now, the people, as a whole, had found their own voice. They were able to sing without any of their leaders guiding them. The years in the desert had brought them to a stage when they knew how to articulate their praise.

Our task in this world is to find our own voice. When we are young, we need our teachers, our parents, our mentors to help us express ourselves, to help us find the right things to say. Whilst this is true of life in general, we demonstrate this very vividly and symbolically when we celebrate a Bat or Bar Mitzva. We give our young adults the chance to have a voice in front of the whole community. Those occasions require a lot of preparation. We look forward to the time when the youngsters take their place as adults, growing in knowledge and confidence. That gives them a powerful voice whether in the synagogue or in wider society.

But the challenge is there for all of us. Each one of us has his or her own song to sing. Each one of us has a unique contribution to make that is ours and ours alone. Let those voices be heard!