This coming week we will be celebrating two important days:
1: Shabbat SHIRAH– the Sabbath of Song2: TU B’SHVAT– the New Year for the Trees
Let’s see how both days connect to this week's Torah portion, B’SHALACH.
Those of you who know me know that I love to sing! Whenever I am Hazan in my Beit Knesset, the community knows that I will introduce a new melody or tune for the Tefilah, or at least sing a song. Some members appreciate this more, others less... I’m sure that I am not the only person in this situation.
As with any good Hazan or Baal Tefilah that leads the congregation in prayer, the congregation expects to hear something good. Nice melodies, melodies or songs that touch the heart and soul; or perhaps prayers with melodies that everyone can sing along. It does not matter what Synagogue a person attends, or who is the Hazan. The important thing is to sing, and sing together.
**Singing in Synagogue is a way for us to better connect with God.**
The same is true for all types of gatherings. In official public gatherings, we always sing the National Anthem. When we get together for special occasions, we always sing. Whether it be a happy occasion or a sad one, we always seem to find melodies to hum and songs to sing.
In the past few weeks, several well-known singers and rock stars have left us and gone on to that great Hall of Fame in the sky. David Bowie, Glen Fry, and even Animal of The Muppets fame have passed away.
During the last few years many other great singers have passed: Arik Einstein, Ehud Manor, Uzi Hitman, Shlomo Carlebach, Naomi Shemer, Shoshana Demari, Ofra Haza, John Lennon and Harry Chapin, to name just a few.
When a person in the music industry passes away, many of us are vey sad. It’s as if a close friend has passed. Why is that? Why are people so willing to pay large sums of money to hear this person's songs? To hear them sing? Where does this connection come from? And what does this have to do with our Torah Portion?
In this week's Portion- B’SHALACH- we witness the first time that a leader bursts into song. And the people sing along with him:״אז ישיר משה ובני ישראל... אשירה לה׳״ “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord; They said... I will sing to the Lord” (Exodus 15:1)
The people have run away from Pharaoh. Pharaoh hardens his heart, changes his mind and sends his soldiers after them. The People of Israel watch as the waters of the Red Sea cover and drown the soldiers, horses, etc. Not a single Egyptian remained.
As the Israelites saw this happening, they marched directly into the waters.
And I wonder… weren’t the people of Israel scared? Didn’t they stop before going into the waters? Didn’t they at least dunk their toes in to test the temperature? According to the Torah, they went right in. No hesitation. Why?
The torah continues the story:״ויושע ה׳ ביום ההוא את ישראל מיד מצרים... וירא ישראל את מצרים מת על שפת הים״
“Thus the Lord delivered Israel that day from the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shores of the sea” (Exodus 15:30)
When the people of Israel saw that Pharaoh's armies had died, that the enemy had perished in a most unusual way… they understood that something special had taken place. They understood that it was the Hand of God that saved them!
So right after witnessing this great event, what do they do? They break into song!
“אז ישיר משה ובני ישראל… אשירה לה׳ כי גאה גאה …. עזי וזמרת יה ויהי לי לישועה“
“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord; They said... I will sing to the Lord. The Lord is my strength and my might; He is become my deliverance” (Exodus 15:1, 2)
Here we have the first recorded instance in history of a leader and his people bursting spontaneously into song. This may be known as the first ever community sing-along.
At this moment, we could think of Moses as the first Rock Star. He should have received a Grammy Award!
Miriam, Moses and Aaron's sister should have also received a Grammy:
״ותקח מרים את התף בידה... ותצאנה כל הנשים אחריה בתפים ובמחולות, ותען להם מרים שירו לה׳ כי גאה גאה, סוס ורכבו רמה בים״
“Then Miriam the Prophetess took a timbrel in her hand; all the women went out after her in dance; and Miriam chanted for them... Sing to the Lord, He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea" (Exodus 15:20)
The next Biblical Grammy goes to our Dynamic Duo, the prophetess Deborah and her General Barak. In the Haftarah (Judges 4-5) we are again witness to the community at large being led into song. After Sisera is put to death by Yael in her tent, Deborah and Barak break into song:
“ותשר דבואה וברק בן אבינועם ביום ההוא לאמור... אנכי לה׳ אנכי אשירה, אזמר לה׳ אלהי ישראל”
“On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang; I will sing, will sing to the Lord, will hymn the Lord, the God of Israel” (Judges 5)
What is the unique yet common denominator to these songs? Why did the leaders suddenly burst into song and become superstars?
In both the Parsha (B’Shalach) and the Haftarah (Judges), the leaders lead the people of Israel in song. But not just any song...
A song in the Tanach is something special. In modern Hebrew, the word for song is SHIR. However, In the Tanach, the word for song is SHIRAH.
SHIRAH is not just any song, not just a community sing-along song. It is a song that recognizes the Hand of God. The SHIRAH describes an event that has taken place either through a miracle (such as the splitting of the Red Sea), or in the course of a natural event (such as victory in battle).
The important thing is to realize and recognize that the Hand of God was part of this event. And so the Leaders, a.k.a. the Rock Stars of the moment, break into a SHIRAH- a Holy song.
With the establishment of the State of Israel, many new songs and melodies were written. After the Six Day War, more new songs were written. It seems that after each war, someone is always writing or singing new songs. Songs that touch the heart, songs and prayers to sing in Synagogue, songs about the Land of Israel. Great songs and melodies written and sung by great singers.
Today we sing. We sing a lot. We sing songs of musicians and rock stars. But we still don’t have… SHIRAH...
Until we have SHIRAH, we continue to plant trees... and to sing -לשיר!
״השקדיה פורחת ושמשמ פז זורחת״
"The Almond Trees are in bloom and the sun is shining brightly"
״תלכו לשתול עם רון בלב ואת ביד״"Go plant with a song in your heart and a shovel in your hand" ״הנרקיס נותן ריח, מתנוסס תכול רום״ "The Narcissus Flower gives off its smell, spreading its scent for all to enjoy" ״אנו באנו ארצה לבנות ולהבנות בה״ "We came to Israel to build and to be built" And, of course- ״לא נפסיק לשיר!״ "We will never stop singing!" Until we can sing the SHIRAH- that Song of Songs! I’ll end this post with a prayer used by the Jewish National Fund when we plant trees: ״השקיפה ממעון קדשיך מן השמים וברך את עמך את ישראל ואת האדמה אשר נתת לנו כאשר נשבעת לאבותינו ארץ זבת חלב ודבש״
“Look down from Your holy abode ,from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the soil you have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers” (Deuteronomy 26:15)
Happy Tu B’shvat and Shabbat Shalom from Israel!