My dear Jewish friend 7: Shabbat Shira, the New Year of the Trees and songs of praise

After riding with my bicycle through a cold starry January evening to the local synagogue in Bamberg, I thankfully entered the warm and cozy building. Rabbi Dr. Almekias-Siegl had invited me for the Shabbat service and the following festive evening of Tu B´Shvat. As I sat down in a pew, my cold and stiff limbs started to thaw with every word spoken and every song rising.

When Rabbi Dr. Almekias-Siegl explained in his sermon that this evening was Shabbat Shira, my thoughts immediately traveled across the miles to your synagogue and Rabbi Shira Milgrom. My heart silently began to sing as I was reminded of you. What a coincidence to be invited on Shabbat Shira to this synagogue. I suddenly understood why the Rabbi had pointed out to others that my first name was Miriam (as you know in Germany you usually call each other by the surname). It never occurred to me that the names „Shira“ and „Miriam“ are closely intertwined in such significant ways. This special Shabbat not only flabbergasted me, but helped me to understand more about our shared commitment. Shabbat Shira emphasises the Song of the Sea and the Miriams song, which has always has been near to my heart. It is one of the greatest songs of the Torah:

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The LORD is a warrior;

the LORD is his name.

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power—

your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

You stretched out your right hand,

the earth swallowed them.

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The peoples heard, they trembled;

pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;

trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O LORD, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O LORD, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.

The LORD willI will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The LORD is a warrior;

the LORD is his name.

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power—

your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

You stretched out your right hand,

the earth swallowed them.

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The peoples heard, they trembled;

pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;

trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O LORD, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O LORD, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.

The LORD will reign forever and ever. reign forever and ever.

Exodus 15:1-18

It is the song of the people of Israel at the Red Sea, when your people were saved from the pharaoh through G´d. Being named after biblical Miriam, I was always drawn to the story of the exodus. Many a times I shivered about the pressure, toil and hardship Israel had to bear in Egypt, the plagues, and the miracles Moses performed through G´d.

For me as a Lutheran pastor committed to seeking peace and justice, this story is a symbol of triumph after difficult times and that G´ds promise of justice and freedom can be reached. Many times it takes the struggles of numerous generations until justice becomes reality.

But how quickly do we get used to a peaceful and just surrounding? You and I, we both had the privilege to grow up in peaceful times. Through the history of our nations, which are intertwined through the murderous crimes of the Holocaust, we should remember with huge thankfulness that we are blessed with peace.

The nearness of Tu B´Shvat on this Shabbat may help us to remember that the Creator has provided us with everything we need. The New Year of the trees celebrates the fruit of the tree, the vegetables, the plants that give air to the world and so much more. As the Rabbi shared his memories of celebrating „the New Year of the Trees“ in Israel I could feel the joy spreading in the small diaspora synagogue and once more my longing to visit Israel has been awakened again. (I truly hope to be able to spend time there as soon as this pandemic is over.) As we entered the small communal space on the ground floor, a beautiful meal was prepared for us with more fruits than we could eat and we indulged in fruits, which came from your homeland Israel.

As I ate the carefully selected and beautifully presented fruits, I had to think of all the blessings laid into my life. I don’t have to worry about food or a roof over my head, and am blessed in so many ways. But how often do we forget that the basic things in life are small wonders in themselves? Working in your pantry, getting to know your synagogue, and experiencing how quickly even basic things like food can be taken from you, have changed my perspective both on the song of Miriam and the basic things in life.

I think it is our challenge, to recognise the everyday gifts received from above, and to share these blessings with those, who are less fortunate than us. For them they are wonders and free those, who are less fortunate from their bondage hunger and economical troubles. May our actions become very practical, recognisable songs of Miriam as we use our hands, hearts, and lips to give praise to the one, who has called us to pursue peace and justice.

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