Friday, February 02, 2007

DVAR TORAH: Beshalach/Shabbat Shira/Tu Bishvat/Groundhogs Day/Tu Many Superlatives. (Three Heroines)

It's the first time since 1999 since the groundhogs, most notably Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early end to winter. Sorry New York, no snow. The Rabbis of the Talmud would likely refer to Groundhog's Day as a Minhag Shtoot. I will leave it to you to figure out what I mean.

This Torah Portion, Beshalach, marks the last parasha in the Dvar Torah cycle which I began last year with Yitro. One year and a Jewey Award (Okay, a Jewish & Israeli Blogs
People's Choice Award)
later and I'm still going strong, I think.

Beshalach marks the Exodus from Egypt and the traversing of the Sea of Reeds by the Israelites and their collapse upon the chariots of Egypt. Within this portion is a devise of ultimate love and devotion: Shira, spontaneous song to God. Usually recited by ageless angels, today it was recited by the Children of Israel as this people who had known nothing but centuries of bondage, oppression, sorrow, and abandonment sang a new song unto God.

The angels wanted to sing the praises of God, but were forced silent as the Children of Israel crossed, and further silenced when the Egyptians were drowned ("You want to sing Hallel when my children, the Egyptians, are drowning?!) It is a time for Israel of leadership and initiative. Nachshon ben Aminadav is the first into the raging sea, only when the water reaches his nose does it split; when his soul almost leaves him (Paraphrasing Psalm 69, as the Tisha B'Av durge says, "Don't cast me off, don't leave me, because the waters have come to envelop my soul"). All of the Israelites then trudged in and marched through the sea, "the sea became walls to their right and their left", and when the sea came crashing together upon their oppressors, they sang unto God. However the men were upstaged by Miriam and the women with their song. Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Moses and Aaron, and the women, unlike the men, had actually believed in the salvation of God and had prepared their song in advance, preparing tambourines and timbrels. Whereas the guys sang a capela, the ladies had accompaniment. This is why the Talmud says that the women of Israel were the reason for the Exodus.

The Haftarah from the book of Judges tells of the heroics and song of other women. It is the story of the leader of the Jewish people Judge Deborah, her General Barak, and a righteous gentile named Yael of the Kenite people. Deborah, who holds the highest post of any woman in the Bible (and there are people who say women can't be rabbis or witnesses? She's a judge!) is engaged in war against Eglon the king of Moab (ED: Correction: Yavin, king of Canaan; damn you Wikipedia!!!) and his general Sisera. Sitting under her palm tree flanked by her general Barak, she organizes a strategic plan which routs the Moabite army. Meanwhile the actual salvation comes through the God-fearing wife of a Kenite friend of Eglon. When general Sisera realizes he has been defeated he hides in the tent of an ally's wife, giving her the instructions to guard the entrance and not to tell anyone he is there. Once he is asleep, Yael takes a tent peg and hammers it into the skull of Sisera, killing him. The war is over, 40 years of peace in the land is nigh. While 40 years might not seem that much in the grand scheme of things, modern Israel today hasn't gone 40 weeks without some sort of conflict. So Deborah sang a song of praise, to God and to Yael. This week we have two triumphant songs and three heroic women. Both the songs and the women will go down in history as harbingers of Israel's glory.

Also, scribal oddities: both songs are written in scrolls like sea waves/bricklayer patterns, both of which were previous realities for the Israelites (they had to lay bricks and they saw the crashing together of the waves)

Shabbat Shira Shalom, especially to anyone named Shira!

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