Shabbat BeShalakh: Birds, Trees, and Song

Shabbat BeShalakh describes a moment in Jewish religious history that still reverberates throughout our study and practice. This is the parashah which retells our exodus out of Egypt. We tell the story over and over again:

* in the Shabbat Kiddush over wine: ki hu yom mikra’ey kodesh, zekher l’tziyat Mitzrayim – “this is a day of holy gathering, a reminder of going out of Egypt”

* in the Shema section of the daily prayers: miMitzrayim ga’altanu HaShem Elokeynu, umibeit avadim piditanu – “From Egypt HaShem our G-d redeemed us, from a house of slavery we were brought out”

* in the Haggadah of Pesakh….

There are many lessons we are meant to draw from the retelling of the Exodus, and even more good questions. For example:  just how would one commemorate a redemption like this? What is the proper response? For our people, it was song – and the special name for this Shabbat is Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of the Song [of the Sea], led by Moshe and Miriam. (Her version includes tambourines, leading to the surmise that perhaps she has a better sense of rhythm.)

We celebrate this Shabbat of Song with a special ritual during the chanting of the Song itself from the Torah, and there is also a sweet custom to give thanks for all the kinds of song in Creation by putting out food for birds on this Shabbat, in honor of their songs. 

The proximity of Tu B’Shevat to Shabbat Shirah this year allows us to embrace even more of the world around us in appreciation and in respect. Many birds, after all, depend upon trees, and Tu B’Shevat is the New Year of Trees. The most Portland-ish of all Jewish holy days!

Singing is an expression of the soul that reaches deeper in, and farther out, than words can. On this Shabbat, give yourself over to the hope of small, fundamental things: the fragile beauty of a finch, the grand glory of a sequoia, the sweetness of a shared song. And let that song give you the courage to head back out there, as our people has always done, armed with the kiddush, the mi kamokha, the Haggadah, reminding us that we belong to a millennial journey whose most beautiful moments are still to be known.

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