Beshallach (Ex. 13:17–17:16), Shabbat Shirah, Tu Bishvat

It’s about 17°F outside (-8.3°C, which sounds worse) and it’s supposed to snow this afternoon (yes, I know it’s January).  So it’s a perfect time to celebrate the coming of spring – in Israel.  Yes, this Shabbat is Tu Bishvat, the 15th of the month of Shevat, so called because “Tu” numerically equals 15 and is a lot shorter than Hamishah Asar Bishvat.  I bought some as yet unopened daffodils. Tu Bishvat is known as the New Year of the Trees, or Jewish Arbor Day.  It is customary to plant trees in Israel; plant one via JNF and you might win a trip to Israel: .  We also eat tree fruits and nuts that are grown there, like grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives dates, and almonds.   Lately, Tu Bishvat has morphed into a sort of a Jewish Earth Day, with increased environmental emphasis.  A recently revived custom is the Tu Bishvat seder, introduced by Kabbalists in the 17th century in Safed (

It’s also Shabbat Shirah, Sabbath of Song, because the Torah portion includes the song (THE “Shir,” 15:1-18) the Israelites sing after they have crossed the Re(e)d Sea on dry land and the pursuing Egyptians have been drowned.  Yes, this is the portion in which the Egyptians realize they’ve allowed a large labor force to escape and try in vain to re-capture them. Traditionally, parts of the Shir are chanted to a different melody than the usual Torah trope; once I heard the whole thing chanted beautifully to an entirely different melody.  Then Miriam, introduced as “the prophetess,” starts up the song again, with a timbrel (ancient tambourine), and all the women join in, adding dance and instruments.  The accompanying haftarah is also largely a song, sung by Deborah in celebration of the victory of Barak over Mitt, I mean, over Sisera and the army of Canaanite king Jabin..

The portion includes the first few months in the wilderness.  The Israelites whine about missing Egyptian food (mmm, garlic), are given quail and manna (literally, “What’s this?”).  They whine about potable water three times and are given it three different ways:  a sweetening shrub, a dozen springs, and from a struck rock (maybe the Lord was showing off divine versatility?).  They start to have faith in the Lord, not just for big miracles, but faith that manna will arrive 6 days a week, with a double portion on Friday so they can rest on the Sabbath.  [Spoiler alert: It is revealed to the reader in 16:35 that the Israelites will wander for 40 years: 35And the Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a settled land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.] Finally, they survive a surprise attack by the Amalekites, inspired by the sight of Moses, whose weary arms are held up by Joshua and Hur.

Shabbat shalom,


 What do you call a blonde* in a tree with a briefcase?
Branch Manager.

 *Note: Some of my best friends are blondes. Really.
tph dry bones tu bishvat

January 6, 2003
Ten years ago, in January 2003, I [cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen] did this cartoon as part of a campaign to promote Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees.

Last sent out in 2007:

A Simpsons Exodus

This is an excerpt of a “Simpsons” episode, “Simpsons Bible Stories,” written by Tim Long, Larry Doyle, and Matt Selman that aired on April 4, 1999, a version of the Exodus with Milhouse as Moses and Principal Skinner as Pharaoh.  At this point, Moses/Milhouse and Lisa have been imprisoned in a pyramid by Chief Wiggum.

 Milhouse and Lisa climb the spikes, like a ladder, until they reach the top of the pyramid.  They remove the capstone and slide down the side, blowing a rams’ horn.

“Our time has come!” Milhouse shouts.  “Follow me to freedom!”

Meanwhile, Bart is chiseling “I will not deface,” as a rebus, into the blackboard.  He hears the commotion and runs outside.

Wiggum runs into Skinner’s chamber to tell him the children of Israel are escaping.  Skinner is unconcerned until he is reminded that this would leave him without a labor force.

 Meanwhile, the children have reached the shore of the Red Sea.

Lisa:           Oh, we’ll never be able to swim that far.
[Skinner and his army of chariots appear on the horizon]

Bart:           Oy, caramba!

Milhouse:   [throws down his staff] Screw this; I’m converting.  [to the sky] Save us, o mighty Ra!

Lisa:           Hey, cut that out!  I have an idea.
[shortly later, as clouds gather, the children are lined up at the latrines]
Okay, Moses — lead your people.

Milhouse:   Flush!
[the children do so, in unison.  The Red Sea is soon drained]
It’s a miracle!  I performed a miracle!  I’m a genius!

Lisa exhorts everyone to cross.  Skinner sees what has happened and commands his troops into the “temporarily dry sea.”  As soon as they are part of the way across, the water returns, swamping them all.  The men surface, and begin horsing around like kids in a pool.  Lou complains that Eddie is splashing him, but Wiggum just tells him to splash Eddie back.
Safely on the other side of the sea, the children cheer.

Milhouse:   Well, Lisa, we’re out of Egypt.  So, what’s next for the Israelites?  Land of milk and honey?

Lisa:           [consulting a scroll] Hmm, well, actually it looks like we’re in for forty years of wandering the desert.

Milhouse:   Forty years?  But after that, it’s clear sailing for the Jews, right?

Lisa:           [nervously] Uh-huh-hum, more or less — hey, is that manna?  [the children cheer and run off into the distance]

Musical Definitions (selected)

Note: not to be used in exams…

  • Accidentals: Wrong notes.
  • Air:  An essential ingredient needed by singers in order to perform. When hot, an ingredient found in great quantities in opera singers, who are full of it.
  • Antiphonal:  The music that results when half the choir has been given the wrong score.
  • Atonal: Music written when the composer either forgets or doesn’t know what key they are writing in.
  • B flat: A squashed insect.
  • B double flat: An insect that was squashed twice.
  • Beat: What music students do to each other with their instruments. The down beat is performed on top of the head, while the up beat is stuck under the chin.
  • Cadence: When everybody hopes you’re going to stop, but you don’t.
  • Clef: 1.what you never want to fall off.  2. something to jump from before the viola solo.
  • Conductor: A musician who is at following many people at the same time.
  • Crescendo: A reminder to the performer that he has been playing too loudly.
  • Da Capo al Fine:  I like your hat.
  • Duet: Not to be confused with a duel, which it often resembles.
  • Götterdämmerung: An expression often heard from the audience of Wagner operas. (as in, “Isn’t this götter-dämm-erung opera finished yet?”).
  • Harp: A naked piano.
  • Impressionism: Music that sounds as if it being played in a thick fog.
  • Improvisation: What to do when your music falls off the stand.
  • Lamentoso: With handkerchief.
  • Libretto: From the Italian for ‘little book” a useful reminder to the concert-goer to bring along a good book in case the performance is dead boring.
  • Metronome: A city-dwelling dwarf.
  • Mezzo voce: A reminder for singers to sing more quietly therefore reducing the dynamic from the ear-splitting, to the merely uncomfortable.
  • Music: In printed form, any assortment of obscure lines, dots, curves, squiggles, and blotches assembled into something resembling an organised score. (in 20th Century music it’s mostly just the blotches and squiggles, with very few of the lines, dots and curves.).
  • Notes: Small, folded pieces of paper passed by students during music class.
  • Operetta: A kind of calorie reduced Opera-Lite, with less fat and generally easier to digest.
  • Pizzicato: A small Italian pie garnished with cheese, anchovies, etc.
  • Perfect pitch: The smooth coating on a freshly paved road.
  • Quartet: What’s left of most orchestras after the latest round of funding cutbacks.
  • Tuning: An abstract concept with which singers have very little firsthand knowledge.
  • Upbeat: What conductors must remain to encourage their performers, even when things are falling apart.
  • Vibrato: Used by singers to hide the fact that they are on the wrong pitch.

Anytime it Rains it Rains… Manna From Heaven [excerpts]

June 9th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

by Dave Arnold

Today I had my first article published in the New York Times, and it’s on  manna.  Yes, like manna from heaven.  Here is the link. Below is a short post with some additional information. The first part is (mostly) a quote from the article.  For the full skinny go to the NY times website. The second part of the post has some info I couldn’t fit into the article.

tph manna

Left: shir-khesht manna; Center: hedysarum manna; Right: Chios Mastic (not a manna, but a resin that is also a tree sap)

Turns out, manna is real. There are dozens of varieties, and they have been used for millennia.  The defining features of all mannas are 1) they are sweet, and 2) they appear as if from nowhere, delivered by Providence, without cultivation. Most manna is either dried plant sap or the honeydew excreted by bugs that eat the sap. Rarer are the non-sap mannas, including Trehala manna, the sweet-tasting cocoon of the Larinus maculates beetle, and manna-lichen (Lecanora esculenta). Biblical manna was almost certainly a sap manna –the favored theory says the Israelites’ came from a tamarisk tree (Tamarix gallica).  Every continent has sap mannas.  They form best in extremely dry climates –like the middle east’s – where sap oozes during the night and dries up in the morning.

There are two types of manna available here in the US from Behroush Sharifi theSaffron King, dealer in rare spices and dried foods from ancient Silk Road: Hedysarum and Shir-Khesht.  Both are products of Iran and are imported from the bazaar in the town of Yazd.  They are some of the most unprocessed foods you can get. They contain bits of leaves and twigs and who knows what else.

Hedysarum is the dried sap of the camelthorn bush.  It tastes like a combination of maple syrup, brown sugar, blackstrap molasses, honey, and nuts – delicious. My wife detected a note of clams –not like eating clams, but like the aftertaste.  Upon re-tasting the manna, I detected that flavor as well; it wouldn’t stop me from using it in a dessert.  Her response to the Hedysarum supports Mr. Sharifi’s claim that manna tastes different to different people and has a wide range of nuanced flavors (cf. the rabbinic midrash that manna tasted liked whatever you wanted it to. IGP)  Shir-Khesht manna is the dried sap of the cotoneaster nummilaria shrub.   Shir-khesht (which means “dried-milk” in Persian) is whiter than hedysarum manna. It is sweet, with some gumminess that eventually dissolves in the mouth. Shir-khesht has a tongue-cooling effect that comes from mannitol. It also has notes of honey and herb, and a faint bit of citrus peel. [for uses of Shir-Khesht in food and drink, see the rest of article at .]

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1 Response to Beshallach (Ex. 13:17–17:16), Shabbat Shirah, Tu Bishvat

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