This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah, “Shabbat of Song,” because on it we read/chant the epic poem, Shirat HaYam, “Song at the Sea,” contained in the Torah portion B’shalach. The musical/poetic nature of the reading is compounded with the haftarah portion that includes Shirat D’vorah, the “Song of Deborah” within the selected passage from the Book of Judges.
Do you remember the matric dances? How everyone resembled a wall-clinging competition, as if the dance floor was a sea and the students—who obviously could not swim—stood back in fear for their lives? If so, then you can imagine how our ancestors felt as they faced their own sea with an inability to swim upon leaving Egypt.
Moses said to the people, ‘Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Eternal will work for you today‘. Sh’mot Rabbah, a rabbinic teaching, draws for us to following picture: “The Israelites where starting to enter the sea, but it did not split. All the while they sang: “Mi chamochah . . . Who is like you, Eternal One!”. With water up to their ankles they sang, but nothing happened. Up to their knees they sang, but nothing happened. Up to their chests they sang, but still nothing happened. Finally, with the water so high they had to tilt their heads back to breathe the sea did a split.” Why? Because that moment God saw that the people discovered something vital for their future: courage, belief in themselves and their own power to initiate change instead of waiting upon God. God still may wish to take the lead, but, God wants active dance partners in all men, women, and children, too.
According to our tradition, Tu Bi Sh’vat is the birthday of all trees. Why? Scholars believe that originally Tu Bi Sh’vat was an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring in Israel. Each year, the Israelites were expected to bring one-tenth of their fruits to the Temple, where they were offered to God and also helped sustain the priestly class and the poor. Since fruit from one year could not be used to tithe for another, they had to determine when a crop year would begin and end. They chose the month of Sh’vat as the cut-off date, for this is when, in Israel, the sap begins to run and the trees start to awaken from their winter slumber.
Although the celebration of Tu Bi Sh’vat seems to be more practical and down-to-earth, the theme most commonly ascribed to the holiday today is the environment. It is considered a festival of nature, full of wonder, joy, and thankfulness for God’s creation. The holiday has become a tree-planting festival in Israel, in which Israelis and Jews around the world plant trees in honour or in memory of loved ones and friends. Doing that, we recall the sacred obligation to care for God’s world, and the responsibility to share the fruits of God’s earth with all, which connects it so wonderful to the idea of our Torah portion. God’s wonders and miracles need us humans not only to recognise them, but even more so they need our interaction.
Therefore, may we all have the courage to step up, onto the dance floor of life, making our collective movements forward more vibrant, and celebrating God’s creation.
|Torah Reading Shabbat Beshalach
Exodus 13:17-17:16 (Ex 15:1-19) Plaut p. 438; Hertz p. 270
Haftarah: Judges 5:1 – 5:31 Plaut p. 464; Hertz p. 283
In our Torah Portion: • The Children of Israel escape across the Sea of Reeds from Pharaoh and his army, who drown when God drives back the sea. There Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites sing a song praising Adonai. • In the wilderness, God provides the grumbling Israelites with quails and manna. • The people complain about the lack of water. Moses hits a rock with his rod and brings forth water. • And it concludes with Israel defeating Amalek, Israel’s eternal enemy. God vows to blot out the memory of Amalek from the world. …..