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YomTov, Vol. IV # 18

Topic: Shabbos Shira, A Shabbos For the Birds

by Rabbi Yehudah Prero

This Shabbos, on which the Torah portion of Beshalach is read, is known as Shabbos Shirah, The Sabbath of Song. The source of this special name is the portion of Beshalach, in which we read of the song the entire nation of Israel sang after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. This song, which is recited every day as part of the morning prayers, is a special song. Because of the importance of this song, the Shabbos on which we read it takes the name of "Sabbath of the Song." What makes this song so special that, above and beyond all the other miraculous events that are read about in the Torah portion, the Shabbos is given it as its moniker?

One of the customs associated with this Shabbos is to place crumbs outside for the birds to eat. (As to the Halachik correctness of this custom, see Shulchan Aruch Orech Chayim 324.) We read in the Torah on this week about G-d giving the "Man", manna, to the nation of Israel, for their sustenance. Moshe told the nation of Israel that the Man would not fall on Shabbos, and therefore they should collect a double portion on Friday. There were rabble-rousers who wanted to embarrass Moshe and weaken his authority. They took Man they had collected on Friday, and after dark placed it out on the ground. Come morning, they hoped that people would think that the Man did indeed fall on Shabbos, and Moshe, who they contended made up the laws as he went along, was wrong. However, no Man was around on Shabbos morning. Why? Because the birds carried it away before the nation awoke, so that the nation would indeed trust in Moshe and respect the sanctity of the Shabbos about which Moshe spoke. To reward the birds for this noble deed, we feed them the week on which we read of the surrounding incident, the week of Beshalach.

The Sefer HaToda'ah mentions an additional reason why we feed the birds this week. The chirping of birds is not just idle song. It is the way that birds praise G-d for providing them with their needs. Because, on this week, we too sing praise of G-d, we recognize the constant song of praise chirped by the birds by feeding them, as a form of reward.

Why should we reward birds for their song of praise? Why is the "faith" of the birds more deserving of recognition than expressions from other creations?

The splitting of the Red Sea marked a milestone in the genesis of the nation of Israel. The event had a profound effect on the entire nation. The Torah tells us (Shmos 14:31-15:1) "And Israel saw the great work which the Hashem did upon the Egyptians; and the people feared Hashem and believed Hashem, and his servant Moshe; Then sang Moshe and the people of Israel this song to Hashem. . . ." The nation reached a level of faith and trust in G-d that they had not previously achieved. Although they witnessed ten plagues, their faith in G-d was not complete. Any reaction of thanks they had until that point was one that stemmed from amazement and awe. After the splitting of the sea, they sang a song of thanks. After the miracle ended and the power of the enormity of the miracle to cause awe began to wane, they sang a song of thanks. After they recognized the true Divine Providence of G-d and appreciated that G-d provides everything for everyone, after they _believed_ in G-d, "then sang Moshe and the people of Israel."

The complete and total faith and trust in G-d of the nation of Israel caused them to sing songs of praise and thanks. The song marked a time in our history which we must actively recall, because we must strive daily to reach the level of trust our ancestors achieved at that point in time. The song is no ordinary song; it is a song that epitomizes expressions of thanks and recognition of G-d's providence which warrants that thanks. We therefore mark the occasion on which we read this important song, in context, by having a Shabbos Shirah.

The faith of the nation of Israel, however, was threatened soon after this song was sung. The nation wanted food. Moshe told them it would come in the form of Man. Moshe told them how and when the Man would arrive. There were those who wanted to undermine Moshe, G-d's messenger, and thereby undermine the faith of the people in Moshe and G-d. They schemed, and their scheme was foiled. Who prevented a potentially disastrous trial of faith from occurring? The birds. The birds, who every day sing praise of G-d. The birds, who recognize G-d's providence, who trust in G-d and who appreciate the importance of wholeheartedly believing in G-d. They allowed the nation of Israel to see that the Man did not fall on Shabbos, just as G-d had told Moshe it would not fall. The nation was able to use this incident to bolster their trust in G-d. G-d said to collect double on Friday because nothing would fall on Shabbos. That is what happened, and the nation was provided for. Had this not happened, or appeared to have not happened, doubts would surely arise. The nation's steadfast faith in G-d would develop cracks. However, the birds prevented this from occurring.

The faith of the birds deserves to be recognized. It enabled the nation of Israel to grow in their devotion to G-d. It allowed the nation to carry forth from the level of trust they achieved at the time they sang their song of praise. To show our appreciation for the birds and their faith in G-d, we remember them on the week when their trust in G-d was most apparent, the week when we read Parshas Beshalach.

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