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

(Mainly taken from 2014’s comments)

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).

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, this Shabbat is Tu Bishvat (15th day of the month of Shevat), the New Year of the trees, a celebration of the coming of spring in Israel. More recently, it has also acquired an environmentalist character.  It is customary to eat fruits and nuts grown in Israel, like grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives dates, and almonds.    Kabbalists in the 16th century also developed a Tu Bishvat seder, which some have revived recently.  We also plant trees in Israel, leading to greeting cards like, “Happy Birthday! I planted a tree in Israel in your honor. Your day to water it is Tuesday.”

Shabbat shalom,




From 3 years ago.  A favorite!


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.


Some signs that the church choir you are going to direct is not so good.

  • Quarantine sign on choir room.
  • Nine of the organist’s fingers are bandaged up due to arthritis.
  • None of the sopranos can sing higher that the altos.
  • All of the basses sing higher than the altos.
  • The altos cannot sing at all.
  • All of the music is dated B.C. (Before Caesar)
  • The organ is beautiful, its wood tone matches the interior of the church and has been out of order since the 1930’s.
  • The replacement for the organ is a hurdy-gurdy c.1902.
  • The minister only wants to hear one song, “Abide With Me” and he is tone-deaf.
  • The congregation, also tone deaf, likes “Abide With Me”, they also like Grand Ol’ Opry songs and George Beverly Shea (b. 1909) as a modern singer.
  • All of the choir members who could sing converted to Judaism and moved to Haifa.
  • All of the members from other churches who couldn’t sing moved into your church.

Submitted by Bruce, Carol Stream, Illinois





How do trees access the internet?
They log on.

What did the tree do when the bank closed?
It started its own branch.

What type of tree fits in your hand?
A palm tree.

How do you properly identify a dogwood tree?
By the bark!

Where do saplings go to learn?
Elementree school.

What is an Oaks Favorite school subject?

What is every single tree’s least favorite month?

What must trees drink responsibly?
Root beer.

Why do trees hate tests?
Because they get stumped by the questions.



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