A Shabbat for the Birds

January 22, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, January 22, 2016.

A Shabbat for the Birds

On this wintry Shabbat (less wintry here in Wisconsin compared to what they’re expecting on the East Coast), there is a custom, believe it or not, of feeding the birds! This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Shirah,” “The Sabbath of Song.” The main reason is that this week’s Torah Portion, Beshalach, contains the account of the splitting of the Red Sea and the Israelites escaping from Egypt passing through the sea on dry land. Then we are told,

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord saying:

I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously.

Exodus 15

The poetry of this long song is the oldest writing in the Bible, and is considered by tradition to be so powerful that it is one of only ten true songs in the history of the world. (To read more about the other true songs, click here.)

In Eastern Europe, the custom grew of feeding the birds on this Shabbat. According to tradition, we humans forget God from time to time, a circumstance amply illustrated throughout the Bible. The birds however, NEVER forget their creator. For this reason, the birds sing – their song is their own tribute to the Holy One Praised be He and is their version of prayer. According to a famous midrash (rabbinic legend), when Moses explained to the Children of Israel that the Manna which fed them in the desert would not appear on Shabbat, and therefore they should collect a double portion on Friday before the Sabbath, there were those who wanted to prove Moses a liar. They therefore took some of their manna and scattered it on the ground on Friday night. The people would wake up on Shabbat morning, see the manna on the ground, and would think that Moses had lied to them. This plot, however, was ruined by the birds who realized that the Children of Israel would not only doubt Moses, but they would doubt God. So... they ate the manna overnight and foiled the plot. For this reason, Askenazic (European) Jews fed the birds every year on this Shabbat, the Shabbat of Song.

Shabbat Shalom