Happy birthday, Lou! (One of my favorite tenors – How appropriate for Shabbat Shirah! (Sabbath of song)) And next Wednesday, we celebrate Tu Bishvat (literally, the 15th of Shevat), the New Year of the Trees, which used to mean planting trees in Israel via the Jewish National Fund and eating Israeli-type tree produce like almonds and oranges and trying without much success to eat carob (“buckser” – my mother brought it to Sunday school). Nowadays, there are also tie-ins to environmentalism and Kabbalah (a seder with four cups of varyingly colored wine).
As for our Torah portion this week, Pharaoh chases after the Israelites and they start to have second thoughts (“There weren’t enough graves in Egypt, you had to bring us out here to die?!”). The Lord tells Moses how to split the Red Sea (better, Sea of Reeds), it works, the people cross over, and the Egyptians follow and drown as the water crashes back in. They start their journey in the wilderness by the scenic route – longer than the more militarily challenging path, thus allowing them some time to develop confidence as a free people. (At this point, “some time” was not meant to be 40 years.) Not for the last time, they start whining. OK, it’s reasonable to fret about sources of food and water in a totally unfamiliar wilderness. For food, they get manna six mornings/week, a double portion on Fridays so they won’t need to work on the Sabbath. The manna is intended both to feed them and to teach them to trust in the Lord concerning its arrival (and that it only stays edible overnight on the Sabbath) and to teach them about the Sabbath. They are also discouraged from being greedy – no matter how much they gathered, they ended up with only as much manna as they needed. It is said that manna could taste like anything they wanted except cucumbers, melons, leek, onions or garlic, according to one opinion in the Talmud (Yoma, 75a), items that had enjoyed in Egypt. Kind of like the Shmoos in L’il Abner (http://www.deniskitchen.com/docs/new_shmoofacts.html , http://www.lil-abner.com/shmoo.html ). The Israelites also successfully fend off Amalek in their first actual battle in the wilderness.
I did not forget the Song at the Sea (Shirat HaYam), the reason this Sabbath is called Shabbat Shirah. There is also a song in the special (and very long) Haftarah for this special Shabbat, Judges 4:4-5:31 (Sephardim skip the background and start with the song at 5:1). Deborah, Israel’s leader at the time, orders general Barak (not that one) to attack Sisera, who is the commander of the Canaanite army of King Jabin of Hazor. He insists she accompany him, and she does. The Canaanites are routed, and Sisera takes refuge in the tent of Yael, who happens to be married to a descendant of Jethro (aka Hobab, 4:11). She plies him with salty cheese, so he drinks too much wine. He passes out, and she kills him. Deborah and Barak sing a triumphant song in celebration, lauding all the victors. Note the prominence of women in this week’s readings: Deborah, who sings with Barak in public; Yael, who doesn’t seem to sing; and Miriam, who lead the women in song and dance in public at the sea. [Don’t get me started on the exaggerated haredi prohibitions, or the less exaggerated but still annoying Orthodox restrictions, concerning women’s singing that are derived from “kol ishah ervah” (“the voice of a woman is sexually exciting”) in the Talmud (Berakhot 24a).]
Most of you know I like to sing. In February, I’m usually involved with two choral groups; this year, it’s three. I sing alto, and I love the sense of being enveloped in and surrounded by the other vocal parts. It’s all about the music, not the singer. Our role is to convey the meaning of the music. I also enjoy leading services and chanting Torah readings, haftarot, and megillot. For the latter items, the music is principally a vehicle for the text, so I try to convey that meaning when I chant. My singing is not about me except for one type: a spontaneous, happy, “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow” kind of singing, which is usually just for me.
A step beyond that is the nature of the singing at the Reed Sea. It is spontaneous and joyous. The Shir (song) is an outlet for overwhelming emotion. It is totally focussed on the Lord, even the details of the imagery. This is nicely discussed by Rabbi Charlie Schwartz of JTS at http://www.jtsa.edu/Conservative_Judaism/JTS_Torah_Commentary/Beshallah_5772.xml . For example, the strong east wind that the Lord causes to blow to split the sea (14:21) becomes in the Shir “a blast of Your nostrils.” It is emphasized in the Midrash (Midrash Rabbah – Exodus, Soncino Press, 1939, p. 281) that “From the day when God created the world until the Israelites stood near the sea, no one save Israel sang unto God,” not Adam, nor Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob. It is not surprising that the Shir in its power and beauty became part of our daily liturgy.
An agriculture student said to a farmer: “Your methods are too old fashioned. I won’t be surprised if this tree will give you less than twenty pounds of apples.”
“I won’t be surprised either,” said the farmer, “this is an orange tree.”
The Magnolia Tree
Last October my wife bought a magnolia tree from the local nursery, but after only a few weeks the leaves shriveled. It appeared to be on its last legs. My wife took some leaf samples and marched into the nursery to demand an explanation.
“I know exactly what’s wrong with your magnolia,” said the manager.
“Good,” said my wife. “What’s it suffering from?”
“Autumn,” he replied.
Q: Did you hear about the female opera singer who had quite a range at the lower end of the scale?
A: She was known as the deep C diva.
Ever hear the one about the tenor who was so off-key that even the other tenors could tell?
Arriving at Heaven
A soprano died and went to Heaven. St. Peter stopped her at the gate asking, “Well, how many false notes did you sing in your life?”
The soprano answers, “Three.”
“Three times, fellows!” says Pete, and along comes an angel and sticks the soprano three times with a needle.
“Ow! What was that for?” asks the soprano.
Pete explains, “Here in heaven, we stick you once for each false note you’ve sung down on Earth.”
“Oh,” says the soprano, and is just about to step through the gates when she suddenly hears a horrible screaming from behind a door. “Oh my goodness, what is that?” asks the soprano, horrified.
“Oh,” says Pete, “that’s a tenor we got some time back. He’s just about to start his third week in the sewing machine.”
Operas that never made it
Britten: A Midsummer Nightmare.
Mozart: The Magic Tuba.
Puccini: La Bamba.
Rossini: The Plumber of Seville.
The Ten Commandments (1956) – Trivia
Celluloid art created the special effects of the Red Sea parting by pouring 300,000 gallons of water into a tank and then playing the film backward.
The illusion of the Red Sea parting was achieved by large “dump tanks” that were flooded, then the film was shown in reverse. The two frothing walls of water were created by water dumped constantly into “catch basin areas” then the foaming, churning water was visually manipulated and used sideways for the walls of water. A gelatin substance was added to the water in the tanks to give it more of a sea water consistency. Although the dump tanks have long since been removed, the catch basin section of this tank still exists today on the Paramount lot, directly in front of the exterior sky backdrop, in the central portion of the studio. It can still be flooded for water scenes, but when not being used in a production, it is an extension of a parking lot.
Was manna a type of buckwheat?
How to Make Manna (the kind from Heaven, not from Whole Foods) [excerpt]
Nov 22nd, 2010 by JamieMilks
In the story of Moses, “manna,” a grain harvested in the morning dew under white flowers, saved Moses and his band from starvation in the wilderness. Like manna buckwheat is harvested in morning dew. Its flowers are white and its grains are often hidden under these.
It was just seven weeks after the Passover that manna was available in the story of Exodus. Buckwheat grows in poor soil, rapidly, in 6 – 8 weeks. Like manna also, buckwheat wilts in the heat, and is about the size of coriander seed. Buckwheat has a slighty sweet nutty taste: manna tasted like honey according to Exodus (16: 31) .
You can dehydrate this if you hav ea food dehydrator with square trays, such as an Excalibur Dehydrator. This is what I use. Otherwise, you can do this in the oven at a very low temperature. Dehydrating will retain the maximum amount of nutrients and the living enzymes. In other words, it will be raw. Using the oven will also produce a crispy and healthy cereal.
2 cups buckwheat groats, soaked in water for 4 hours
3/4 cup honey (or more, if desired)
2 teaspoons sea salt
Drain and rinse the soaked buckwheat groats well. Add all three ingredients to a food processor and process for about 10 seconds. You do not want a paste, but it should be well combined and soupy in texture. If you do not have a food processor you can pulse this in a blender or just skip this step and your manna will be a littler chunkier.
Spread mixture onto two Teflex-lined dehydrator sheets (I use parchment paper). Dehydrate overnight at 110 degrees. Flip and continue dehydrating for a few more hours.
Line a 12×18 baking sheet with parchment paper leaving a couple inches hanging over on the short sides (this will give you something to pull on to get your dried manna out in one sheet). Pour the mixture onto the pan and spread it out, covering the entire pan. Bake at the lowest temperature setting your oven will go (mine is 170) for 2-3 hours. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn. You want it to be completely dry like granola.
When the mixture is dry and crunchy, break it up into smaller pieces and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Eat as a snack by itself or pour milk over it for a healthy bowl of cereal.