This week we read the climax of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, Parasha Beshallach, also known as Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of song. It receives this name because of the song that was sung by Moses and Miriam and the children of Israel as our ancestors experienced their miraculous deliverance from slavery and reached freedom on the opposite banks of the sea. At that moment of supreme joy and celebration, the Israelites burst into song, giving voice to their delight. The Haftarah compliments the Torah portion by telling the story of Devorah, who along with Barak and Yael, also experienced a miraculous deliverance. Devorah, like her ancestors before her, burst into song. These parashiot are linked by song and by women, two of whom, Miriam and Devorah, are described as prophets, and who led their people in time of struggle to victory. While this Parasha features songs of gratitude for that salvation, there are so many reasons in life to sing.
As we sing in our synagogues around the world “The Song of the Sea” and “The Song of Devorah,” we are reminded that song is at the heart of human creativity, a crucial aspect of our learning, worship and faith community. Many Jews know the key phrase from the Song of the Sea that appears in every service in the blessing after the Shema: “Mi Kamocha B’elim Adonai” – who is like You among gods that are worshipped? In this verse we acknowledge the uniqueness of that which we call the creator, for God itself is understood in Judaism as infinite selfcreated being out of which all else emanates. That is, according to our spiritual understanding of life, matter evolves out of being, not the other way around. We all recognise the reality of conscious being; whether it emanates from matter or matter from it is the great mystery and also the crux of the debate between “religion” and “science”. One area the two life approaches meet is in their recognition that creation itself is made up of vibrations, both in the mental and material worlds. Song is the beautiful melding of vibrations.
Song is found in nature itself. The Shabbat of Song always falls on or leads into Tu Bishvat, which falls on the full moon of the month of Shvat, this year Sunday night and Monday. Tu Bishvat is one of four new years described in the Talmud – it is the New Year for trees. It is the time in our calendar where we pause to celebrate and consider our environment and our impact upon it. We reflect on the beauty of nature and this precious planet that has been entrusted to our care. There is also a link with the Parasha and with song. Just as all in nature has its vibrations, two great Jewish mystics, the Ba’al Shem Tov and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, both suggest that every plant, tree, flower and shrub has its own song. Even blades of grass sing their own unique melody. The voices of the plants then join together in a beautiful harmony and the song they sing together, circles the world, resting gently upon us all. At Tu Bishvat, we take the time to listen for the song, to hear the harmony flowing through nature and to connect ourselves to that aspect of the world.
So, this Shabbat Shira, Shabbat of song, may we all hear the song of the universe, celebrating the beauty and wonder around us, and may we all add our own notes to create an even more wonderful and lasting harmony.