Bird-Song of the Sea

Az yashir moshe — Then Moses sang”
— Exodus 15:1.

“Then”? After what?

Rabbi Danny Zemel (Temple Micah, Washington, DC) explained on Shabbat Shirah 5769 that the Israelites, traumatized by hundreds of years of slavery and hardships of fleeing from Egypt, were not yet ready to sing God’s praises, even after participating in a miracle, walking on dry land through the Sea of Reeds. So, God sent birds — “masters of song” — to sing for the Israelites. This inspired the Israelites to praise. Then Moses sang… This explains the custom of children feeding birds on Shabbat Shirah.* (Citation and details coming).

In a continuation of this midrash (more citation and details coming), the Rabbi of Chelm arrives, post-WWII, in Haifa. He is towing many boxes. His town and everyone in it — except him — were destroyed, the rabbi explains; he returned on Shabbat Shirah to find the birds seeking their usual supply of crumbs. Without children to feed them, the birds did not sing. So, the rabbi carted the birds with him to Israel, hoping to find children who would again set out crumbs, so the birds would again sing, inspiring the people to God’s praise.

(How) can the Jewish people work together to inspire one another more fully to sing?

See related post and join the inter-denominational conversation in New York this spring.


*Another midrash links the custom to birds rescuing Israelites by eating crumbs left by frightened members of the community who wanted to find their way back, if necessary, and so alerted the Egyptians to their whereabout. Still another says that the birds saved the Israelites by eating manna left out by rebels who tried to discredit Moses’ claim that no manna would appear on Shabbat. (citations for these coming later, too).

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