I love attending concerts, and my favorite part of a concert is when all the attendees start singing together. When a hundred, a thousand or fifty thousand people start singing together in harmony, there’s so much positive energy in the air, that the song becomes a surreal experience of pure joy.
This past Shabbat we marked an ancient concert experience. Parshat Beshalach is also known as Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, because of the song sung by the children of Israel when the Red Sea split, allowing them to escape from their Egyptian oppressors and attain true freedom. Upon safely crossing the Sea, six hundred thousand people start singing in harmony.
There’s a curious custom to feed wild birds on this Shabbat. You throw your crumbs out the door or head to a local park and feed the birds. Sort of like Tashlich, but for the birds (works best when the temperature is above single digits!).
What’s the reason for this custom? Because there’s a tradition that when the Children of Israel burst into song with “Mi Komacha B’Ailim Adonai…”, the birds sang along with them. The Aruch HaShulchan (a famous Jewish law compendium) writes that it is well known among the masses that the birds sang at the Sea, therefore, we thank them by feeding them each and every year when we sing this song from the Torah.
I find this a fascinating concept: the birds saw us singing and like attendees at a Neil Diamond concert, they joined in with us as well.
We find this harmony/synergy concept a few times in our tradition.
In the morning service, we say the prayer, “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh (Holy, Holy, Holy)…” because 2700 years ago Isaiah peeked into heaven and heard the angels praising God with these words. Therefore, every morning we say these words with the Angels so that the Higher and Lower Worlds are praising God together in harmony.
There’s a silence accord in our tradition as well. When God spoke the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, all of creation decided to be silent together, so that throughout the world, only the word of G-d would be heard. No songbird chirped, no bird flew, no cow mooed, the Ofanim Angels didn’t jump, the Burning Angels (Seraphim) didn’t recite “Kadosh…”, the Sea was quiet, and all the other creatures didn’t make a peep. Rather, the world was silent and patient to hear the Voice of God, to show that there is no other power on earth.
If harmony amidst the creation is a beautiful achievement, then we could certainly use some now in Washington. Politicians should be able to debate the efficacy and imperative of any initiative, but not at the expense of hundreds of thousands of people being without their income. They should sympathize and/or remember what it’s like not to be able to pays one’s bills. We should rally our congresspeople not to make the Federal employees and the millions of their dependents the sacrifices of political debate.
Speaking of harmony, two great people who were leaders against racism were born exactly 90 years ago. On Sunday, I attended a gathering celebrating the lives and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank at Congregation Tiferet Israel in Glen Cove.
My good friend, Rabbi Irwin Huberman, asked me to join the event and say a few words. Here’s what I said:
When I think of Anne Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I think of prophecy. Why should the existence of Prophets be limited to earlier generations? Don’t we matter just as much as people who lived 1500, 2000 and 3000 years ago, and don’t new times and conditions need new words, words that speak directly to us? The fact that decades after Anne Frank and Dr. King passed on, their message is still powerful to us, shows us that their words were Divinely inspired, custom designed for our ears.
One of my favorite quotes from Anne Frank speaks of her never-ending idealism. She writes:
In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.
And it’s fascinating, Dr King echoed the same idea facing similar barriers:
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
Although great strides toward unity and equality have been made since WWII and the Civil Rights movements of the 60’s, there’s still so much more to accomplish; it even seems as if we’ve taken a few steps backwards lately.
If are to complete the task of uniting society through love and understanding we will need the embrace the visions and perseverance of these two great modern-day Prophets.
How fascinating it is that the Torah Parsha marks a day of harmony between the Israelites and the Birds, and the weekend celebrates harmony between two great people, born in the same year, speaking harmoniously for equality and love.