Beshallach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), Shabbat Shirah, Tu B’Shvat

Pharaoh has now realized that he’s allowed a huge and hugely profitable work force to leave Egypt and sends an army after them so that the former slaves are trapped between the army and the Red (actually, Reed) Sea. The Israelites panic and complain to Moses, the Lord tells Moses to use his rod to split the waters, and the Israelites march through between walls of water, said walls subsequently crashing down upon the Egyptians, drowning them. The people celebrate their deliverance with music and dance, with Moses leading the Song of the Sea (15:1-18) and Miriam, timbrel in hand, leading the women in dance and then singing for all of them (the Hebrew lahem in 15:21 is a masculine form, used for a male or mixed male/female group).  After such a wondrous occurrence, the people have more mundane concerns, like hunger and thirst.  Moses makes bitter water drinkable using a plant of some kind (I was actually asked about this back when DuPont was into desalination technology) and the Lord supplies food in the form of manna.  The manna also provided a way to develop and test (according to Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, et al.) the people’s faith in the Lord, since they had to trust that a single portion would appear each day, except for a double portion on Friday which would not spoil overnight.  According to the commentators,  manna could taste like all sorts of good things, except cucumbers, melons, leek, onions or garlic, according to one opinion in the Talmud (Yoma, 75a, cited in ” A Daily Dose of Torah”).  Those five items were the ones the people ate in Egypt and later will complain about missing when they tire of manna (Numbers 11:5-6).

This Sabbath is known as Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song, because we read the Song of the Sea.  Thus, for the Haftarah (Judges 4.4-5.31, Sephardim start at 5:1), another triumphant song is read, Deborah’s song when Barak defeats Sisera.   Singing has always been a means for expressing strong emotion, not only at major events. Recently, Malawi schoolchildren spontaneously burst into song upon receiving chairs and desks for the first time (see for more).  I personally find singing to be an effective antidepressant, so it’s good that I’m singing in two choral groups for the next several weeks, at such a dreary time of year.  Sadly, this week the world of Jewish music suffered a major loss with the premature passing of Debbie Friedman, a singer, songwriter, and teacher whose name has become synonymous with modern spiritual Jewish folk music.  Her music will continue to touch countless lives.

Next week (Jan. 20), we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, literally the 15th of Shevat, which is the New Year of the Trees, or Jewish Arbor Day, on which it is customary to plant trees in Israel and eat species of tree fruits and nuts that are grown there (especially, the “seven species”: date, pomegranate, olive, wheat, barley, fig).  Lately, it has morphed into a sort of Jewish Earth Day, with increased environmental emphasis.  A recently revived custom is the Tu B’Shvat seder, introduced by Kabbalists in the 17th century in Safed ( ).

Shabbat shalom,
I looked at toys on the web, hoping to find a working model of the parting of the Re(e)d Sea (“PORS”), like a miniature version of the contraption used in the movie “The Ten Commandments.”  but the only PORS toys I came up with  were a jigsaw puzzle
and a board game, . Sounds like a market opportunity, no?  IGP.

How did Moses part the Red Sea?

Q. How did Moses part the Red Sea?
A. With a sea saw.

Biblical events as reported by today’s media (selected, lightly edited)

On Red Sea crossing:
Enforcement Officials Killed While Pursuing Unruly Mob

On David vs. Goliath:
Psychologist Questions Significance of Rock Used as Weapon

On the prophet Elijah on Mt. Carmel:
400 Killed In Unprovoked Attack

On the birth of Jesus:
Animal Rights Advocates Enraged by Insensitive Couple


Q: Did you hear about the band director that got zapped by electricity?
A: Yeah! He must have been a good conductor!

Q: What happens if you play blues music backwards?
A: Your wife returns to you, your dog comes back to life, and you get out of prison.

A young child says to his mother, “Mom, when I grow up I think I’d like to be a musician.”
She replies, “Well honey, you know you can’t do both.”

Q: What’s the definition of an alto?
A: soprano who can sightread. [heh, heh, heh]

Musical Definitions [selected]
Antiphonal: Leaving your answering machine on all the time.
Basso continuo: When a conductor can’t get him to stop.
Contralto: An alto who has been convicted.
Grand Pause: What occurs when the conductor loses his place.
Leitmotif: Like a regular motif, but less filling.
Perfect pitch: Throwing a banjo in the dumpster without hitting the sides.
Polychoral motet: Six parrots singing “Exultate justi.”
Score: Basses 2, Castrati 0.
Theme: “Oh, the singing was terrible!”
Theme and variations: “The singing was terrible, the production was awful, and those costumes!”

Tu B’Shvat Drinking Game [abridged]

by Ilan and Ilana
Posted: 01-29-2007(Viewed 3542 times)

While most of us Jews don’t know what Tu B’Shvat really is about or why it reminds us of sticky bags of dried fruit, like Pesach or Purim, any Jewish holiday becomes a lot more fun when there is drinking going down. So in order to celebrate the New Year’s Tree-eve right, below are the rules to the bangitout Tu B’Shvat drinking game to use at your hippie seder:

  • If your friend shows up wearing earthy sandals in February = 1 shot if wearing socks, 2 if feet are bare
  • Upon receiving a JNF [Jewish National Fund] email to plant a tree take a shot for every email you get (2 for every email you delete)
  • Upon the first vegetarian entering and proclaiming his/her vegetarianism, do a shot (2 if the person is a vegan)
  • For every dried fruit you encounter, develop a martini for it (dried apricot, aprictoini, dried apple, appeltini, buksar [carob], buksartini)
  • The second someone chant’s “HaShekadiah Porachat” [kid’s song, “The almond tree is blooming”] do a shot of almond liquor
  • If someone starts talking about Tu B’Shevat as a political movement for peace = do a shot
  • If someone enters your house with the name Ilan or Ilana [means “tree” in Hebrew] = do a shot
  • For every one of the Tu B’Shvat seder “ma nishtana” (4 Questions ), do a shot.
  • If you can name any other of the new years (there are 4 according to the Gemarah) take 4 shots
  • In order to fulfill the Sheva Minim [7 species]:
    • Date: upon seeing someone you have dated, or want to date, do a shot
    • Pomegranate: drink a Pom Juice N’ Vodka (the new Red Bull)
    • Olives: must accompany all martinis with a toothpick
    • Barley: Do a mug of a microbrewery beer to taste the barley hops
    • Grapes: Get high on a glass of Golan Heights
    • Wheat: Wheat beer must be on tap (hefferveizsen or hoogarten)
    • Figs: hmm… Fig Newtonini? you’ll have to fig-ure that one out on your own.
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