Even on the coldest and dreariest days of winter, the sounds of morning tefillot from the different classrooms spread through our halls, and blend together to create a warm and cozy feeling and atmosphere. Even in the middle of a winter without much winter weather, the power of song and our ability to bring warmth to each other is amazing, and it is a skill that we impart on our students. This shabbat, we will celebrate Shabbat Shira, which marks the Israelite crossing of the Sea of Reeds. It is marked in our Torah reading by Shirat Ha-yam, or the Song of the Sea, also recited each morning during Pesukei de-Zimrah, the introductory prayers, which start the morning service. As I popped into our 1-2 class yesterday to check out their beautiful parasha illustrations, students were quick to point out that we really need Shabbat Shira this year! While our winter temperatures have been mild, they were excited to know that they possess the skills to keep warm by singing, and began to sing about the upcoming holiday of Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the trees.
While our agricultural calendar is based on the seasons in the Land of Israel, and spring is still more than around the corner (groundhogs aside), I was reminded in my reading of the Jewish Catalog that this is also the month when sap begins to flow, “marking the re-fructification and rebirth, as it were, of the tree following its winter hibernation.” If you happen to be traveling north of here in the coming weeks (especially to Vermont!), look for hearty maple syrup producers, dressed in their cold-weather gear as a sign that even in the heart of winter, spring is coming!
Also in this week’s parasha, there is a fascinating story that provides an additional link between this shabbat and our upcoming tree celebration. After the splitting and subsequent crossing of the sea, Moses leads the people to a place called Marah in search of water. However, they were unable to drink the bitter water (Marah means bitter), so Moses cries out to God, who shows him a tree, and when Moses touches the water, it is sweetened and drinkable. This is taken as a message that beyond the desert trek, there is plant life and sustenance. Beyond the winter, there is spring. The text then continues to tell us that God established laws for the people then and there. There are differing opinions as to what those laws were. Rashi explains that God taught the people about Shabbat, the Red Heifer, and laws of justice, but the 14th century commentator Rabbeinu Bahya shares that it is here that God taught and showed the people how to find vegetation in the desert and which plants and trees have added medicinal and therapeutic value.
On Monday, our students will have multiple opportunities to learn about and celebrate Tu Bishvat when we open up our Ezra Olympics a little earlier this year. This program, where students are split into multi-age teams to learn together, includes team-building and problem-solving oriented challenges, which will be connected to the importance of trees, planting, art, and singing. Stay tuned for updates and photos as we continue this new and developing Ezra tradition!
Wishing you all and your loved ones a (warm!) Shabbat Shalom and a restful weekend,