Parashat B’shalah/Shabbat Shirah
This “Shabbat Shirah” – Sabbath of Song – tells of the great song the Israelites poured out in celebration of their salvation at the Red Sea. When synagogue services were held in person this was a Shabbat that was marked with extra opportunities for singing together. Alas, this year will not allow for that kind of joy.
But there is a beautiful custom that has arisen for this Shabbat and it is very much available to us this year. The custom is to put out breadcrumbs or other food for the birds who are wintering with us. Various reasons have been given for the aptness of this custom. One central explanation is that we recognize the birds as nature’s masters of song. The birds sing out instinctively their clear and sweet songs. So we offer them gifts in gratitude for the beauty that they add to our lives.
Another significance can be found in another part of our Torah reading. When the Israelites find that all the food they packed from Egypt has been used up, they call out for sustenance. God gives them “bread from the heavens” (Ex. 16:4) – the manna.
So, too, we scatter crumbs for the birds. With this act we find a connection both to God and to the birds. Like our Mighty and Compassionate God, we, too, bestow our largesse on needy creatures. This is a simple expression of our responsibility to emulate God in all we do, and of our power to do so. But we can also enter into the souls of the needy birds as we imagine the birds’ wonder at finding this miraculous bounty of “bread from the heavens.” To God we are but tiny and fragile creatures. To the birds we are as gods.
This Shabbat we – so capable and so needy – can practice this beautiful custom and become the link joining our Creator – so demanding and so caring – and our natural environment – so songful and so fragile.
Rabbi David Greenstein
Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein
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