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
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
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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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.
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