You Can’t Spend What You Ain’t Got: Eikev Prayer Links

In this portion, Moses presents the People with a jumble of sentiments — from sweeping promises to dire threats — which found their way into prominent roles in our prayers. And, while biblical context often has little to do with the use the siddur makes of the bible’s language, our prayers do reflect this portion’s tangled relationship between the People, God and others.
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Seeing You in 42 Familiar Places (Mattot-Masei Prayer Links)

“In that small cafe;
The park across the way;
The children’s carousel;
The chestnut trees;
The wishin’ well.

“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places…
I’ll find you
In the morning sun
And when the night is new.
I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.”

The relationship described in the Fain/Kahal song is so strong that it imbues the very landscape with the absent loved one. A similarly powerful relationship between God and the Israelites is described in midrash on the Torah portion Masei, with its 42-stage journey recitation. (Mattot, the penultimate, and Masei, the final portion of Numbers/Bamidbar, are read together in non-leap years.) And in many ways, the siddur is designed to call prayer participants and God to remember “the park across the way,” like the stages of the desert journey, prompting renewed recognition.
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“…The Time That We Get Shabbat…”: (Pinchas Prayer Links)

The People’s time in the wilderness with God — “the love of your bridal days” (Jer. 2:2) — is coming to an end in the portion Pinchas. This is perhaps reflected in the portion’s “extras”: the additional sacrifice for Shabbat (Numbers/Bamidbar 28:9-10) and the eighth day “atzeret,” at the close of the festival of Sukkot (Numbers/Bamidbar 29:35-39). These small, ephemeral extras help imbue Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret with a sense of intimate, transitory pleasure.
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Shemini: Great Source(s)-2

This may not seem immediately related to the portion, Shemini, in anyone else’s head. But Louis Armstrong — both voice and trumpet — has always sounded to me like a man who has experienced strange crossings with their share of harrowing times and losses…not unlike what the families of Aaron/Elisheva and Moses/Zipporah — and the Israelites, more generally — have been experiencing. For me, this is most evident on Moon River:

Beshalach: Great Source(s)

One day in 1948 an old man carrying many huge packages arrived at the port of Haifa. He stood in a long line of people who had come from Europe. They all looked tired and worn from their long journey and from the terrible events that had brought them to the new State of Israel. But they all looked forward to becoming citizens of the new Jewish state.

“…So, Rabbi, what’s in all these packages?” [the customs official asked]

“They are cages, filled with birds,” he stated.

“Birds?” The officer was even more surprised. “You brought birds all the way from Europe….I can assure you we have plenty of birds–”

“No, you don’t understand. When the Nazis came, they took everyone….By some miracle I survived. I was liberated from the concentration camp. And after I was liberated, I went back to my village….But there was no one. Not one other person from Chelm had survived. I found myself alone. I stood in the burned-out shell of our synagogue, and I was alone.

“And suddenly I realized what day it was — it was Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath when we read the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. And the birds came, all the birds, as they had come every year* to eat the children’s crumbs and to sing with us! But there were no children, and there were no crumbs for the birds….I couldn’t save the children, and I couldn’t save the song, but perhaps I could save the birds….Here there is a future for the birds and for Jewish children. So here the birds will live again.”

The astonished officer stamped the rabbi’s passport and said with reverence,” Welcome to Israel, Rabbi Elimelech son of Shlomo of Chelm. Here you will find Jewish children. Here you will find Jewish people who sing. Here you and your birds will find life again. Welcome to Israel, Rabbi.” — E. Feinstein

Shabbat Shira and Birds

This story is excerpted from “The Last Story of the Wise Men of Chelm,” from the collection, Capturing the Moon: Classic and Modern Jewish Tales retold by Rabbi Edward M. Feinstein. (Springfield, NJ: Behrman House, 2008). This offers the gist, but the full story is worth checking out — as are others in this volume.

I first heard this story at Temple Micah, where Shabbat Shirah is occasion for much music-making each year. (Thanks to Rabbi Zemel for sharing his copy.)
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Ki Teitzei: Something to Notice

“It’s very clear our love is here to stay.
Not for a year, but ever and a day.
The radio and the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go.
But, oh my dear, our love is here to stay.
Together were going a long, long way.
In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay.
But our love is here to stay.

— Ira Gershwin, “Love is Here to Stay”
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