Jews have laws and customs for so many ritual details: washing hands in the morning, donning a tallit [prayershawl], the order of blessings before and after a meal, preparing a household for Passover, etc., etc., etc., etc. A special kavanah [intention] can be part of even the most mundane of actions, as well. But, while we do have rituals for bidding holy days farewell, there is a marked lack of ritual and intention for cleaning up afterward. Much ink has been spilled, for example, over the order candles are placed in the Chanukah menorah and the order in which they’re lit each night. Where do we learn, though, how to deal with wax drippings and old wicks, at the end of the eight days?
A winter cold meant a pause in #ExploringBabylon after only three of the five powers associated with Chanukah and the piyyut “Ma’oz Tzur.” But this household is still trying to rid itself of wax drippings left on the cookie sheet while cleaning up the hanukkiyot — and we hope that the light from the holiday will not recede but carry us (past the Gregorian new year) on toward the New Year for Trees (1/30/18). So, look for “Chanukah and the Five Powers, part 2” soonish.
Hard winter earth. Gray February days. Thank God for hidden sap!
Celebrating trees when we are surrounded by cherry blossoms — or other local tree-life — might seem more sensible than doing so on a day like today. But Judaism’s “tree holiday,” is more about the tiny bit of sap, running unseen under winter earth, than it is about visible signs of new growth. Tu B’shvat, the 15th of the month of Shevat in the Jewish calendar (Feb. 8 this year) is the “New Year for Trees.” According to Talmudic discussion, it takes place after “the greater part of the year’s rain has fallen and the greater part of the cycle is still to come” (Rosh HaShanah 14a).
Two notes in Siddur Koren Mesorat HaRav, although both offered as commentary on the morning blessings, seem particularly pertinent for this holiday.
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.)