Drash on Parashat Beshalach
Rabbi Jeffrey B Kamins
Shabbat Beshalach links two stories, one told in the Torah, one in the Haftarah from the Book of Judges. The first is the redemption at the sea, as our ancestors fled from Egypt and the waters parted; the second is a decisive victory over enemies in the land to which we had come, enabling us to live in quiet for 40 years. These parashiot are linked by women, Miriam and Devorah, described as prophets (Miriam the first person in the Torah to be described that way), who lead their people in time of struggle to victory and triumph.
This Shabbat is also known as Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, for both triumphant victories are celebrated with song. We all know the Torah’s “Song of the Sea”, sung by the children of Israel as they 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. This song is recited every day in the traditional morning service; a phrase of it is found in the prayer of redemption immediately after the Shema, known to nearly all Jews: "Mi Kamocha B’elim Adonai” – who is like You among gods that are worshipped?
As many have considered, song is at the core of human creativity, a crucial aspect of our learning, worship and faith community, for song opens our hearts. We sing for joy, but we also sing in lament; song captures our innermost feelings and yearnings.
This Shabbat is also the Shabbat before Tu Bishvat, one of four new years described in the Talmud. Tu Bishvat is the new year for trees and 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 the precious planet, which has been entrusted to our care. Celebrating our environment this Shabbat is actually linked to this Shabbat Shira, this Shabbat of Song.
The Ba’al Shem Tov and Rav 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.
This Shabbat Shira, we must query whether the song of the universe is as harmonious as before. With the devastation humans are wreaking upon our 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.