In this week’s Torah portion, we read the story of the Jewish people crossing the Red Sea, following the Exodus from Egypt. After the splitting of the Sea and their miraculous rescue across on dry land, the people sang a beautiful song of thanks and praise to G-d, the Song of the Sea, when they reached the opposite shore. In commemoration of this momentous event, this particular Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shira, or the Shabbat of Song. The Song of the Sea is still read every morning in the daily prayer service.Birds have often been linked to Shabbat Shira through the ages, and there is even a tradition to feed the birds on this Shabbat. Ancient stories recount that the birds sang along and danced with the people: “Our sages tell us that the birds in the sky joined our ancestors in their singing; for this reason it is customary to put out food for the birds for this Shabbat.” (From: Beshalach – Shabbat of Song on Chabad.org)There are also many tales in Jewish tradition about the special power and meaning of birdsong, some of which I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Rabbi Yehudah Prero includes a lovely explanation of this: “The chirping of birds is not just idle song. It is the way that birds praise G-d for providing them with their needs. Because, on this week, we too sing praise of G-d, we recognize the constant song of praise chirped by the birds by feeding them, as a form of reward.”
Some sages credit birds with faithfully hovering close above the people (some of whom were undoubtedly fearful that the waters would come crashing back down upon them) as they made their way across the Red Sea. Other stories linking birds with Shabbat Shira have to do with the manna that fell from the heavens to feed the Jewish people as they journeyed through the wilderness.
A very interesting article about Shabbat Shira by Jerry Friedman (2013) describes one curious Midrash about the role birds may have played in consuming leftover manna. Friedman also speaks of the powerful impression the massive spring bird migrations (which still occur today) may have had on the people at that time:
“Each spring, 500 million birds migrate up the rift valley in Africa, along the Red Sea, across the Sinai Peninsula, north through the Arava and Jordan Valley, dispersing at last in the birds’ summer homes throughout Asia Minor and Europe. . . . This annual migration of hundreds of millions of birds, heading in exactly the same direction as the Israelites, must have made a tremendous impression on these wandering nomads and fostered an intimate connection.”The beautiful reminder below about Shabbat Shira was excerpted from a book by Rosally Saltsman, who points out that on the weekdays, instead of taking the tiny white seed-like morsels for themselves, the birds left the manna for the people. This excerpt was sent to me last spring by a very dear family member (Thank You, Bracha~):
“During this Shabbat (Shabbat Shira) we remember the birds that didn’t eat the manna that fell in the desert. if we are meant to remember the good turn done to us by birds 3000 years ago, surely we are meant to remember the kind deeds, favors, and gestures which our friends, neighbors, and family members perform for us daily and judge them favorably. If we succeed in that, then we can all sing.” (Cited online, from: Finding the Right Words).
The most amazing part to me is not that they sing so beautifully but that they FLY!
So true, Berny~ What a thought!
Thanks for your post, it is very enlightening, and fits like hand in glove with what God has shown me through His Spirit about the purpose of bird song, thanks for sharing! What is the name of the beautiful Ibis looking bird you have featured first?
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So glad you enjoyed this, Aussiebirder, and thank you for visiting! I’m quite sure the featured bird is a White Ibis, but I took this shot in the shadows at 6 pm last week, and don’t have a lighter image in my files. So . . . there’s a chance it might have been a Glossy Ibis 🙂 ! We have many of both at this time of year, and their silhouettes are very similar.
You both sing and fly – and nurture others to do that too!
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You are wonderful, Bracha – thank you!