11 Shevat 5778 – B’shalach

I think for most of us, life has suddenly become very busy! We seem to all be rushing again. Rushing… to make our appointments, arrange work meetings and ensure that our kids are ready for the new school year! 

In the midst of this madness, I ask you to remember 2 things!

1. Remember to take some time out this Wednesday for “Tu B’shvat” (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) to celebrate the birthday of trees and our natural environment. Find some fruit and make a blessing over it. Thank Hashem for the many tasty and healthy gifts that we have in our lives that all too often we take for granted.

2. Come to Shule this Shabbat day and listen to us sing the “Shira” – the special song the Jews sang when leaving Egypt. If you can’t make it to Shule, then take another moment during your week to listen to or sing an uplifting, powerful song or prayer. Why? Because song has a special, spiritual power which is why it occupies a central place within Judaism. True song has the power to move our souls! 

In our material world, we can easily convince ourselves that we are “movers and shakers”. There are people who tally up millions of frequent flyer miles, others who move around in all the high circles, and yet others who are climbing the corporate ladder. But are they truly moving? Their bodies may be travelling places, but are their souls in motion? 

But how do you move a soul?

The Kabbalah offers a fascinating answer: The only way a soul can move about is through a song. Without song the soul remains stuck in one place.

In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, there were fifteen steps corresponding to the fifteen Shir HaMaalos (song of ascents) in the book of Psalms (120-135), which the Levites would sing as they stood on the steps. In order to climb from one step to the next a song had to be sung.

We are told that when G-d created the universe, He consulted the angels: “Should I bestow upon the human race the gift of music?” The elitist angels unanimously replied with a resounding “no.” “The human race will not appreciate the sublime power of melody. They will abuse and commercialise it. They won’t know how to appreciate the angelic, divine nature of song. Give us your gift of music,” the angels said, “and we will sing Your praises. 

G-d considered their opinion, but then overruled them. “No. I will give the gift of music to humans. Because I want them to have something to remember Me with.

G-d was implying the following. Sometimes life will be difficult. In such times the pressures can be overbearing. Man can feel depressed and hopeless. I, therefore, want them to have song to remind them, that even when you’re stuck in the dire straits of material existence, even when you are experiencing existential loneliness and quiet desperation, you can break out in song, which will lift your spirits.

Who hasn’t been drawn by the wish to just go outside and sing, unbound, to the open heavens? To get away from it all and sing away, with your hands waving free like there is no tomorrow. To close your eyes, and allow the music to take you to unknown places beyond the anguish and pain of life’s tribulations?

Songs and prayers, therefore, have the ability to lift our spirits to unprecedented heights. As one Rebbe put it: The spoken and written word is the “quill of the mind;” Music is the “quill of the heart.” If a soul looks like a flame, it sounds like a song.

On this “Shabbat Shira” (Parashat Beshalach), I wish all of us an uplifting, ‘melodious’ Shabbat and week ahead.

Shabbat shalom!

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