This week, the Israelites complete their escape from Egypt. However, they cannot escape from each other.
All seems well at first. Moses has retrieved Joseph’s bones to take to Canaan. They start on their journey, following a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. Then Pharaoh realizes he has just let a large and valuable labor force escape and sends his chariots after them. The newly freed slaves are upset. Also sarcastic: “There weren’t graves in Egypt, you had to take us out here to die in the wilderness?!” (14:11, more or less) According to an interpretation in the Mechilta (Chabad.org: “a text of exegesis on the Book of Exodus compiled in the era of the Mishnah, during the third century” C.E.), Moses actually has four diverse groups to deal with at this point. One group intends to drown themselves rather than fall into Egyptian hands. A second wants to do battle. A third group wants to surrender and be slaves again. The fourth tries to confuse the Egyptians with noise and wild screams. Moses has a specific response for each in 14:12-14, which I’ve color-coded below (red = first group, blue = second group, pink = third group, green = fourth group):
(A Daily Dose of Torah, Kleinman Edition, Rabbi Y. A. Weiss general editor, vol. 4, p. 168)
That gives you some idea of the chaos within the ranks of the Israelites. Now picture yourself as an average, brand new ex-slave, an ordinary person, not a hero like Nachshon ben Aminadav (future leader of the tribe of Judah, who, according to the rabbis, is the first to obey Moses’ order to go into the sea). You witness the splitting of the Sea of Reeds (Yam Suf) by Moses, you cross it on dry(-ish) land, and you see the pursuing Egyptians trapped by their own chariots in the mud and drown as the waters return to cover them. How do you express your stunned relief and joy, besides whoops and hugs? With music and dance, of course. Thus we have the famous Song of the Sea (Shirat HaYam), in 15:1-21, in which Moses leads the people in song, and Miriam and the women sing and dance, even with musical instruments (yes, according to the Mechilta, the women were confident they’d have need to celebrate, so they brought those along). That is why this Sabbath is called Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. The haftarah (Judges 4:4–5:31) also contains a song, the song of Deborah after the triumph of Barak ben Avinoam over Sisera (helped by Yael and her tent-peg – see 4:21-22).
But what happens after a great high? A great crash. In that sense, this portion is a template for what will happen throughout the journey of these ex-slaves: A miracle occurs, they are awed, it quickly wears off, and they start whining about something mundane, like food and drinkable water (details, details). Here, bitter waters are turned sweet, more fresh water is found in springs and when Moses strikes a rock, quail is flown in, and the first manna is provided. In learning how to deal with manna, the Israelites also learn (again) about the holiness of the Sabbath. Then they are attacked by Amalek, whom we’ll discuss before Purim.
Finally, January 16 is the 15th of the month of Shevat, i.e., Tu Bishvat, the new year of the trees. Having survived this past week’s polar vortex (doesn’t that sound science fiction-y, like a wormhole?), we can celebrate the coming of spring in Israel, where they also had unusually snowy weather. As I wrote last year, “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 (http://www.hillel.org/jewish/holidays/tubshevat/default.htm).”
Once a little boy handed in a blank piece of paper for his art project and explains it to his art teacher: “It’s called “Crossing the Red Sea”!” But it’s Blank!!! There is nothing there!!!” the incredulous teacher exclaimed. “Well” explained the child “The Sea split, the Jews already crossed, and the Egyptians haven’t yet arrived! So it’s blank!”
Did you know that the horseradish root goes back in time as far as the matzoh does? The horseradish root also crossed the Red Sea with the fleeing Israelites. The Israelites were slaves at the time and only had access to a few vegetables. The hard and woody horseradish was one of them and was a household staple. Nearly all the fleeing Israelites took horseradish with them. Moshe and Sadie, however, while gathering up their scant belongings, found to their dismay that they had run out of horseradish. Sadie immediately sent Moshe into the field to dig up a large horseradish root to take with them. However, because it was dark and everyone was running around in panic, Moshe dug up a ginger root by mistake. After forty years in the desert, the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land – all, that is, except Moshe and Sadie. It took them forty-one years to arrive. When asked where they had been, Sadie, now grown old, shrugged her shoulders and replied, “Moshe insisted on taking an alternative root.”
A mother took her six-year old daughter to the ballet. This was the first time the little girl had ever seen a ballet and she watched wide-eyed as the ballerinas pranced around the stage on their toes.
When the ballet was over, the mother asked her daughter if she had any questions.
“Yes, Mommy,” the little girl replied, “Wouldn’t it be easier if they just hired taller dancers?”
“C, E-flat, and G go into a bar. The bartender says, “Sorry, but we don’t serve minors.” So E-flat leaves, and C and G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished, and G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough. D comes in and heads for the bathroom, saying, “Excuse me; I’ll just be a second.” Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, “Get out! You’re the seventh minor I’ve found in this bar tonight.” E-flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, “You’re looking sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major development.” Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit and everything else, and is au natural. Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he’s under a rest. C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.”
Musical Definitions (selected)
Note: not to be used in exams…
- When hot, an ingredient found in great quantities in opera singers, who are full of it.
- In the plural (airs) the kind of attitude many opera singers put on before the public.
- Allegro: leg fertilizer.
- Arrangement: An agreement between orchestra and conductor. They will behave if he will stop messing about.
- Bass clef: where you end up if you fall off the clef.
- Cello: the proper way to answer the phone.
- Chamber music: music written for a very small number of listeners.
- Concert: a place where people go to cough and sneeze.
- Cut time: when you are going double the speed of everyone else in the ensemble.
- Fuguing tune: In operas by Wagner and others, an expression often heard when a simple, repetitive melody keeps coming back and won’t go away, as in: “do we have to listen to this fuguing tune again”.
- Interval: how long it takes to find the right note. There are three kinds:
- major interval: a long time.
- minor interval: a few bars.
- inverted interval: when you have to go back a bar and try again.
- Music: a complex organisation of sounds that is set down by the composer, incorrectly interpreted by the conductor, who is ignored by the musicians, the result of which is ignored by the audience.
- Pianissimo: an entirely theoretical concept.
- Piano tuner: A person employed to come into the home, rearrange the furniture, and annoy the cat.
- Scale: the rate of pay the union demands for a singer who has mastered such material.
- Subdominant: chief officer aboard a submarine.
- Tune: A simple melody created by a composer and then butchered by performers.
- Upright: How singers and audiences should remain for the duration of the opera.
- Classical: Discover the other 45 minutes they left out of the TV ad.
- Folk: Endless songs about shipwrecks in the 19th century.
- Opera: People singing when they should be talking.
- Rap: People talking when they should be singing.
I once read of a little boy who used to escape his bedroom after being punished. He would crawl out of his bedroom window down an old fruit tree to the ground. One day, his father told him that he was going to chop down the fruit tree, because it hadn’t borne any fruit for a number of years.
That evening, the boy and his friend bought a bushel of apples, and during the night, tied those apples on the barren branches. The next morning, the man could not believe his eyes. He said to his wife, “Honey, I just can’t believe it! That old tree hasn’t yielded any fruit for years, and now it’s covered with apples. And, the most amazing thing is that it’s a pear tree!”