Rabbi Baruch Fry­d­man-kohl

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - Parshah -

Ev­ery year, the To­rah read­ing of the cross­ing of the Sea of Reeds co­in­cides with Tu b’sh­vat, the on­set of the blos­som­ing of trees in Is­rael. This Shab­bat is known as Shab­bat Shirah, the Sab­bath of Song, be­cause the To­rah read­ing in­cludes the Song by the Sea, sung by the peo­ple of Is­rael in celebration of their re­demp­tion from the pur­su­ing army of the Pharaoh.

Oth­ers also sing. We have a cus­tom to feed birds just prior to Shab­bat Shirah be­cause they also of­fered praise of God for the mir­a­cle of the cross­ing of the Sea of Reeds. Since the chirp of song is the spe­cial tal­ent of birds, we ac­knowl­edge this gift by pro­vid­ing them with food.

An­other tra­di­tion links the feed­ing of the birds to the de­scrip­tion of the manna men­tioned in this week’s To­rah se­lec­tion. Moses had said there would be a dou­ble por­tion of manna on Fri­day, but none on Shab­bat. Two ag­i­ta­tors, Datan and Avi­ram, scat­tered some manna late on Fri­day and told the Is­raelites that they would find manna in the fields on Shab­bat. But the birds con­sumed the manna. Moses’ lead­er­ship was con­firmed and the birds are re­warded on Shab­bat Shirah.

I imag­ine that this cus­tom orig­i­nated with the an­nual mi­gra­tion of mil­lions of song­birds and cranes, war­blers and rap­tors from Africa along the Red Sea and up the Si­nai. They fly north through the Arava desert and Jor­dan Val­ley to Turkey and Europe. Wit­ness­ing these birds would have im­pressed gen­er­a­tions of Jews who might have as­so­ci­ated this mi­gra­tion with the Ex­o­dus from Egypt.

On the wilder­ness trek and later in the Land of Prom­ise, the mi­gra­tion of birds may have in­spired a mem­ory of that first cross­ing from Egypt and Africa. Then Miriam and Moses, the Is­raelites and the birds sang to­gether.

Rabbi Baruch Fry­d­man-kohl is senior rabbi at Beth Tzedec Con­gre­ga­tion in Toronto.

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