Beshalach-Shabbat Shira - Weekly Torah Portion


This Shabbat is Shabbat Shira, where we read the Song on the Sea sung by Moses, Meriam, and the Israelites once they successfully crossed the Red Sea. In the Haftarah we read the Song of Deborah after the victory over the army of Sisera. We read there that “Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day”. They sang together, not separately. The change towards working together was actually brought about by Barak who came up with a demand that surprised the prophet. He demands, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” She finds that odd and responds, “I will certainly go with you; however, the fame shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” By this Deborah and Barak form a partnership that continues with that joint singing of praise. In it they encourage each other, “Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and lead away your captives, son of Abinoam.”


We find this kind of partnership also between Moses and Meriam. First, “Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord” and then, “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam answered them, ‘Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.’” Meriam answer them, meaning all of them not only the women of the group. Though many years will pass, the song of Deborah and Barak demonstrates another successful partnership, this time the woman being in the lead. It is only now that some sectors try to claim that women do not have center place in leading Judaism, that one cannot listen to the voice of a singing woman, that she cannot lead us. The history of our people teaches differently and the attempt to remove the female voice from amongst us is doomed to failure.


Not that attempts to silence voices within our camp is something new and we, as members of the Reform Movement, have been fighting an up-hill battle and will continue to do so. We are all for extending the reach so that the voices of any Jew within the broad tent of Judaism is equally heard. This Shabbat is the opportunity to sing together and it is an opportunity to stress that there is more common between us than that which separates us. We can enjoy all the voices, Hardei, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Secular and Atheist. Everyone has a unique voice, a voice which is valuable and worthwhile listening to, learn from, debate with, and branch from. It is easy to silence other voices just like the minister of education is trying to now do with the case of the principals of a school in Haifa. Rather than trying to silence the voice of BeTselem it is better to counter that voice with an equally eloquent voice. If we cannot listen to another point of view, listen to the words and counter them, then our problem is by far much larger than the words that the president of BeTselem has to share with us. To listen does not mean to agree, to pay attention does not require to adopt. It does allow us to confront issues, learn about them, debate them, and possibly even understand people who have a different opinion on one topic or another.


It was sad to hear MK Gafni accuse others of the problems of the Haredi society as we see them before us today. These problems are, fore and foremost the doings of the political and rabbinical leadership. Before the MK sticks his finger in our faces, he ought to first check himself and his own behavior. He is exactly the one who does not listen to the other, and we cannot forget his baseless, ugly and inciteful accusations of the members of the Reform Movement. We also know that his words and deed are not necessarily representative of all members of Haredi Jews that has many interesting shades to it. He just belongs to those who does not want to accept those who are different from him but also gets terribly upset when any kind of criticism is handed towards him.

This is Shabbat Shira and we need to sing it together. Chanting that comprises many different voices, of all sorts and kinds, but also common to many, of different beliefs and affiliations. The risk of those who are in pursuit of the other is the risk that the armies of the Pharaoh took upon themselves and paid the ultimate price, “the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, and the Lord brought back the waters of the sea on them, but the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea.” Separation, division, incitement and blame will result in dismay. Cooperation, mutual respect, lending a helping hand, are the things that will forward our society. We can do that and we can elect leaders who forward these values.



Shabbat Shalom and wishes for Good Health.

Reuven Marko, 29 January 2021, 17 Shevat, 5781

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