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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Beshalach/Shabbos Shira 5770 Song of Values
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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During the 1990s a Jewish advertising executive in New York had an epiphany[1]. If he could get funding to advertise the time for lighting Shabbos candles each Friday in the New York Times - considered the world's most prestigious newspaper – it would raise a great deal of Jewish awareness and pride.

He contacted a Jewish philanthropist and sold him on the idea. It cost almost two thousand dollars a week, but he did it. And for the next five years, each Friday, Jews around the world would see 'Jewish Women: Shabbat candle lighting time this Friday is -. Eventually the philanthropist had to cut back on a number of his projects, and in June 1999, the little Shabbat notice and stopped appearing in the Friday Times. From that week on it never appeared again, except once.

On January 1, 2000, the NY Times ran a Millennium edition. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One had the news from January 1, 1900. The second was the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And then they had a third front page projecting future events of January 1, 2100. This fictional page included things like a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba, as well as a discussion whether robots should be allowed to vote.

In addition to the fascinating articles, on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page, was the candle lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Nobody paid for it. It was added by the Times.

The production manager of the New York Times - an Irish Catholic - was asked about it. He replied, "We don't know what will happen in the year 2100, as it is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing we can be certain. In the year 2100 Jewish women will still be lighting Shabbos candles!”

The Shabbos when parshas Beshalach is read has the unusual distinction of being titled with a special name based on the Torah reading, “Shabbos Shirah – the Shabbos of song”. Aside from the fact that no other Shabbos receives a unique title based on the Torah reading[2], every Shabbos is a day of song as we sing in the liturgy of Friday night, “Beshabbos yosheves bezemer ushvacha” – “We spend the Shabbos in song and praise – Shabbos of contentment.” Why is this Shabbos granted a special name and what is the significance of the name?

As G-d created the world, throughout the initial six days of creation the world seemed to be an end unto itself. It was a magnificent creation, with endless depth and brilliance in every facet and nuance, and it seemed complete and perfect. However, on the seventh day when G-d desisted from creating further, and ‘rested’ as it were, G-d demonstrated that the entire world was only a means to a greater end. As soon as Shabbos began there was a drastic shift of perspective and it became abundantly clear that what had seemed to be the focal point was only secondary and tangential. With the arrival of the Shabbos, it became clear that the entire cosmos and everything contained in it was only created as a means for one to achieve eternal rest through the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos, symbolized by the holy Shabbos.

The greatness of Shabbos can only be appreciated by one who contains intellect and has the ability to prioritize. It is a realization that can only be understood by one with wisdom and an appreciation of values.[3]

During the time of the exodus of Klal Yisroel from Egypt, there was a ‘furtherance’ and second level of the “shift of perspective” that had occurred at the time of the genesis. Though G-d ‘rested’ on the seventh day, symbolizing the radical shift of perspective, the entire world was not privy to understanding that transformation. It was only those who were destined to be the Chosen People who would be able to comprehend the depth of the symbolism of Shabbos.

Throughout their bitter enslavement in the Egyptian exile, it seemed that the mighty and dominant Egyptians were the Chosen People, while the pitiful lowly Jews were nothing but a band of contemptible slaves. However, with the miracles of the plagues and the exodus, culminating with the Splitting of the Sea, the world realized that their earlier conclusions were deeply flawed. It was Klal Yisroel who was destined to become the Chosen Nation, while the Egyptians were only nebulous pawns in the saga of the Jews’ ascent to greatness.

When the exodus occurred, the transformation that had occurred that first Shabbos of creation repeated itself, as the lowly and tangential became the focal point! The shift of perspective symbolized by the original Shabbos could only be realized and appreciated by Klal Yisroel, who themselves had experienced the same shift of perspective in the eyes of the nations of the world.

With this idea in mind, the vernacular of the Kiddush recited on Friday Night takes on new meaning: “Blessed are You… and with love and favor gave us His holy Shabbos as a heritage, a remembrance of creation. For that day is the prologue to the holy convocations, a memorial from the exodus from Egypt. For us did You choose and us did you sanctify from all the nations.”

Prima facie, the connection between Shabbos and the exodus seems perplexing. However, as we have explained, our connection with Shabbos and the exodus are inextricably bound, for it was at the moment of the exodus that it became apparent that we were the Chosen Nation who were responsible to safeguard the Shabbos and what it symbolizes. The fact that, “For us did You choose and us did you sanctify from all the nations” demonstrated that the “remembrance of creation” was OUR heritage - and ours alone!

With this in mind, perhaps we can understand why this Shabbos is titled “Shabbos shirah”. The concept of shirah[4] has little expression in this world. One can only truly sing shirah when he is able to appreciate ‘the bigger picture’ and how every detail that transpired makes sense. In this world, it is extremely rare that we are granted such an opportunity. Therefore, the concept of shirah is primarily reserved for the future when the purpose and direction of all events will be universally realized.

However, such a moment did occur when Klal Yisroel merited the incredible miracles at the Splitting of the Sea. When the young nation saw their former captors dead on the shores of the sea, they were able to realize how the entire process of exile and redemption - all of the vicissitudes, suffering, and pain, together with the triumph, vengeance, and miracles - were all part of a Master Plan that ultimately was orchestrated for their benefit. At that moment of ultimate clarity, “when a maid witnessed greater prophecy than Yecheskel ben Buzi[5]”, the nation was able to unite and sing shirah in complete elation.

Every Shabbos is a microcosm and foreshadowing of the future utopian world. When Shabbos begins we cease to involve ourselves in the matters that consume our lives throughout the six days of the week. In so doing we devote ourselves to a higher purpose. On Shabbos we enjoy a twenty-five hour sublime experience when we are intellectually and emotionally transported to a different world.

Shabbos grants us the opportunity to step back and see life from a metaphysical vantage point which transcends the mundane of life. In that sense Shabbos is inherently a day of Shirah, for Shabbos is a day when we see life from a perception of perfection and completion. “A psalm, a song for the Shabbos day: It is good to thank G-d and to sing praise to Your Name, O Exalted One.”

Parshas Beshalach contains, not only the Song of the Sea, but also the commandment and observance of the first Shabbos observed by the new nation after the exodus.

That first Shabbos observed by Klal Yisroel marked the continuation of the transformation that had occurred 2,448 years prior when G-d ‘rested’ that first Shabbos. Shabbos is a day of song for it is a window into a future world of perfection. And Klal Yisroel – the nation which observes Shabbos – maintained, and maintains the vision of that utopia throughout the millennia.

The holiday of Chamisha Asar (Tu) B’Shvat celebrates the rebirth and revival of the earth after the lengthy desolate winter. In Eretz Yisroel, the majority of the winter rains have already fallen, and the sap now begins its ascent up the tree in anticipation of spring[6].

The irony is that winter is still very much a reality. The buds have not yet opened, the winter rains have not completely ceased to fall, and the sounds of spring are still a few weeks away. Yet we celebrate the advent of spring because we understand that beneath the surface the ‘groundwork’ for spring is being laid.

It is not a coincidence that the holiday of Tu B’Shvat always coincides with the week of Shabbos Shirah[7]. If every Shabbos is a day of celebration when we feel ‘a taste of the future’, Shabbos Shirah celebrates the commencement of our involvement in that process.

The holiday of Tu B’Shvat symbolizes this idea as well. It is a day which celebrates future glory by enjoying a ‘taste’ of that beauty even before its time has arrived, because the foundations are being laid.

When Shabbos Shirah literally coincides with Tu B’Shvat it is a day of complete and perfect song, a day which foreshadows a world which will achieve ultimate perfection and eternal rebirth. It is a day which contains a window into a time when all will realize that Torah and mitzvos, which may seem secondary and tangential in this world, are in reality the priority and focal point. As for everything else that money (and Mastercard) can buy, it is all transient and fleeting.

“Then Moshe and the Children of Israel will sing”

“A psalm, a song for the Shabbos day”

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[1] A friend of mine emailed me this beautiful story. I have been trying to verify its authenticity, but so far have been unable to do so. Still in the hope that it is true, and because its message is definitely true, I am including it.

[2] With the exception of “Shabbos Bereishis” all other Shabbosos that have a unique name, derive their titles from the haftorah (reading from the Prophets) or an added Torah reading.

[3] See Pachad Yitzchak, Shabbos 1- quoted in Stam Torah, parshas Ki Sisa 5768

[4] an extreme level of ‘song’ expressed with soulful, uninhibited and unbridled joy, and a feeling of connection with G-d

[5] Wording of the Medrash; Yechezkel, one of the great prophets, and merited a vision of the Chariot of G-d, as it were.

[6] R’ Tzadok explains that even those Jews living in the Diaspora celebrate Tu B’Shvat, because the blessings of the entire world commence and are rooted in the blessings of Eretz Yisroel.

[7] Tu B’Shvat always falls out the week before or after Shabbos Shirah.

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