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    Getting the singing right – Vayelech

    As he comes closer to the end of the Torah, Moses sums up his lifetime’s teaching and puts it before the people. Not as a speech or a proclamation, but as a song. The sidra says, “And Moses spoke in the ears of the assembly of Israel the words of this song until they were finished” (Deut. 31:30).

    It is true that parts of his farewell message are poetic and could be called a song, but much of his final lesson is prose, so how can it be called a song?

    Like a song, however, its contents are lyrical; even the prose comes in elevated language that alternates between inspiration and exhortation.

    Like a song, it is easy to recall; at all odd moments its words come to mind and roll off the tongue.

    Like a song, it holds together; it is no disjointed series of staccato sentences but a consistent, integrated poetic structure.

    Like a song, it is not read in a dull, prosaic monotone but needs to be enunciated with all vocal ups and downs that give it meaning and passion.

    The Torah is the supreme example of a classical text that must be treated like a song. But other great religious works must be dealt with in the same way, especially the Talmud.

    No wonder that one of my teachers used to say when we were reading Talmudic material, “The words are right but you need to improve the singing!”

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