Food For the Soul
The glorious end to the years of slavery in Egypt is related in the Parshah of Beshalach. Pharaoh dreamed of annihilating the Jewish people with a two-pronged attack: To physically destroy a portion of the people, and to actively promote the assimilation of the remainder, thereby effectively eliminating their Jewish identity, G‑d forbid. Pharaoh’s evil dream was forever swept away in the waters of the Red Sea.
In every generation, “Pharaohs” arise who share the evil hope of the ancient Egyptian monarch. In our own generation, Hitler, may his name and memory be erased, decimated the number of Jewish people by one-third, annihilating six million of our people physically and destroying many of our spiritual institutions. Many of our people have structured their lives around the principle “Never again,”; but they channel this powerful feeling into combating only one prong of Pharaoh’s attack — the physical. Incredibly, they fail to realize that there is another equally effective kind of decimation of Jews; it is assimilation, the second arm of ancient Pharaoh’s attack. It has destroyed the identity of perhaps one million Jews in recent years in the U.S. and elsewhere, and the trend threatens to continue.
In a sense, all of us, regardless of age, are young; we have tens of useful years before us. Since six million of our people have been lost, we have a special task — to accomplish the work that they would have done. Every one of Israel counts. No Jew is expendable. In our daily life, as the survivors and inheritors of the Torah nation, we must use our strength to add to the elements of goodness in the world. Through this, we will gain a life of happiness and harmony — which can only be achieved through a life of Torah and mitzvot. This is an obligation that rests upon every Jew. Furthermore, G-d has given each of us the power to carry this through successfully.
Rabbi Yitschak Meir Kagan
This week’s Torah reading, Beshalach, contains the “song at sea” sung by the Children of Israel upon their deliverance from the Egyptians when the Red Sea split to allow them to pass and then drowned their pursuers. Hence this Shabbat is designated as Shabbat Shirah, “Shabbat of song.” 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 (to avoid the possibility of transgressing the laws of Shabbat, the food should be put out before Shabbat).
Mind Over Matter
Never Say, “I Am This“
“The water was a wall for them, to their right and to their left.” (Exodus 14:29)
Freedom is not to the right. Freedom is not to the left. Neither is it at the center.
Any direction you take is just another form of bondage. Only by walking opposite roads at once can you be free.
So, if you catch yourself fitting into a definition, contradict it. Never say, “I am this.” Always be leaving the slavery of Egypt.
Yes, it demands the supernatural. You are a divine spark. You are supernatural.
Always be walking through the miraculous splitting of the sea.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“G‑d will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Beshalach 17:16)
A Jew is to remember every day what Amalek did, and we are commanded to “blot out the memory of Amalek” (Ki Teitzei 25:19). Nowadays, we cannot identify Amalek as a nation. But there is also a spiritual Amalek lurking in the recesses of our hearts: Of Amalek, it is said, “karcha-he made you cool off” (Ki Teitzei 25:18). That is, he cooled Israel’s fervour and enthusiasm for G‑dliness after the exodus from Egypt on their way to Sinai to receive the Torah. This spiritual Amalek is anything that would cool our bond with Torah and mitzvot. It is our task to fend off this spiritual Amalek and clear a path to the revelation of the inner dimension of the Torah that will be manifested by Moshiach speedily in our days.
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
The Quill of the Soul: The Power of Music
We sat in a circle, eyes closed. All was dark except for the glow of the small candle burning on the desk in the middle of the room. Our teacher began to sing, “Yahy dai dai dai dai dai.” Slowly but surely, the group of students picked up the tune. At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable. I let out a small giggle intended for my friend sitting next to me. After some muffled laughter, we both silently decided to concentrate on the singing.
I closed my eyes more tightly and listened. The music became more familiar, and the repetition of the melody got stuck in my head. I knew where the song was headed next. I anticipated the low notes at the beginning and the high notes in the middle. Soon, no one was there but the music and me. I felt carried away by the song. I heard my voice alone. Then I heard it surrounded by everyone else. We were in unison. Individual voices sang the same melody. No real words backed up our song. There were no words that could. I wanted to sing forever. It was over too soon. We opened our eyes. “I feel relaxed,” said one student. “Everything feels more in focus,” said another.
It was true. My eyes highlighted the soft glow of the candlelight on the faces around me. I heard the steady hum of the room and the murmured sounds of people walking outside. I felt the comfortable cushion beneath me. My senses took in the moment in slow motion.
Our teacher smiled. She told us the song was called a niggun. A niggun, she continued, is a song without words. It was a powerful form of Jewish meditation. Even now, years later, the tune of that melody is still in my head. I access it when I need to unwind. I connect to it like the words of a lover’s poem. Yet it went beyond what words could express. It was as if the rhythm of my soul could be found in between the notes.
What was it about the niggun that drew me in? I wondered. What is it about music that is so alluring? The more I thought about it, the more I realized the importance of music. When someone likes the same music I do, I bond with them. When “my” song is playing, I want to dance. When a song has good lyrics, I often quote it. Movies utilize music all the time. Re-examining the emotionally gripping scenes that have made me cry, I discovered that it wasn’t so much the action of the movie but the tearful music in the background that dictated my reaction. I realized even when I’m not cognizant that there is music around me, it affects me nevertheless.
Music connects me to my past, present and future. Music transcends language. Perhaps that is why mothers sing to their babies. The sound of their mother’s voice soothes their cries when nothing else will. Sometimes, the baby will even smile. Why does a song bring joy when we fail to comprehend the words behind it? Miriam, Moses’s sister, illustrates the answer to these questions. She brought along a tambourine when the Jews escaped Egypt.
Music conveys emotions that are too difficult for even our conscious minds to comprehend. It is beyond the rational. It is something more—, and that is how it can connect us to something beyond ourselves. When the Jews crossed the Sea of Reeds, and the Egyptians did not, Miriam whipped out her tambourine. She played, sang and danced with the other women. The music they played symbolized their faith and their joy more than words could ever express. An even stronger reason for Miriam’s song was the connection she must have felt at this moment. G-d was now keeping His promise that He would create the Jewish nation. We had just gone from slavery to freedom. Singing represents movement and newness. This is essentially the power of creation.
Sound is not finite. It can’t be written down and, thus, can never die. Written words are stagnant, whereas spoken words are moving. Sound is a link to the eternal. It connects us to G‑d. According to Torah; the earth was created in seven days. There are seven notes on the musical scale. Seven is a very special number in Judaism; it represents completion. Seven symbolizes the spiritual reality of the physical world. Maybe that is the reason for music’s power to make us happy, relax us, and add meaning to our lives. When we listen to music, we connect to something beyond ourselves. We feel united with other human beings and to our deepest selves as souls. Judaism teaches that the mouth, the instrument of our bodies, connects the heart with the soul. When we join the body with the soul, we are complete. The music creates a state where we are in tune with our essential spiritual selves and can feel united with our Creator.
From an article by Samantha Barnett