Rabbi Dr. Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
Israelites crossing the Red Sea
There are so many songs in the Tanach, but the one we read this week, from Sh’mot chapter 15, is the only one that is simply called “The Shirah” (“The Song”) without anyone misunderstanding the title.
It’s like the rabbinic nomination of Yom Kippur as Yoma (“The Day”) and Sukkot as HeChag (“The Festival”). They all have a unique significance: a song above all other songs, a day above all other days, a festival above all other festivals. Maybe it is the same phenomenon that we find when the Torah (Num. 12:3) calls Moses HaIsh Moshe (“Moses The Man”).
In the case of the Shirah there is a combination of emotion, history and theology to commend its title. Probably no other song has the feeling and excitement of this song. It vividly re-enacts the emotions of the people – will our Exodus be dashed by recapture by Pharaoh or by drowning in the sea? Will all the centuries’-long yearning for freedom come to nothing? Will God step in and save us? Will we survive and reach the Promised Land?
There is also history; if an event can be said to be the foundation of our identity as a people it is the emergence from the Egyptian episode. There is theology: God is both our God and the God of our fathers, both Parent and Ruler, both zealous and long-suffering, running His world with both regular patterns and amazing miracles.
What we celebrate in the Shirah is ourselves, our history and our God.
Being Thankful for Small Mercies
This Shabbat being Tu B'Shvat, the New Year for Trees, we are reminded of what a beautiful world the Creator has placed in our hands.
The trees are only one – though in some ways the most visible – of the beauties of Nature. They give us protection, products and poetry. They give us inspiration: as the poetic preacher Joel Blau said, “Trees grow upwards: so should men. Trees, with their green leaves and tenderly tinted blossoms, seek the light: so should men.”
Once a year – or more often – we should give thanks to the Maker of the Trees. And further thanks should go to the same Maker for blessing us with so many other boons, great and small – not only in physical Nature, but in human life. Should we not take every opportunity to thank Him for love, for kindness, for courage, for the power of the human heart and the might of the human mind? Above all, for the creative possibility of bringing new generations to birth and continuing the human race.