Rabbi Ian Shaffer
Beshalach, which is also known as Shabbat Shira, is always around the
traditional Jewish beginning of spring, Tu B'shevat (15th Shevat) - the new
year for trees. In Israel the almond blossom begins to appear and the feeling
of rejuvenation is in the air. This apparent calendar quirk is no quirk at
all, but a beautiful synthesis of ideas that carries with it a special lesson
for us, especially when we are still engulfed outside Israel in the gloom of
winter, at least in the physical world around us.
In the parsha, the episode of the splitting of the Red Sea takes place.
Immediately afterwards, Moshe sings the famous song "Az Yashir,"
which has been incorporated into our everyday liturgy. The rabbis are troubled
by the use of the future tense yashir, "will sing." Surely this is
after the crossing of the sea and the word should have been in the past tense
("Az Shar Moshe" - then Moshe sang).
The deliberate use of the future tense here conveys a special message. The
enemy had finally gone, and it was now the perfect time for true rejuvenation
of the people and preparation for the "promised land." This future
prospect is alluded to by the use of the future tense of yashir, as this
becomes the beginning for all the songs of history (see Ba'al Haturim's
comments on this verse, where he lists the 10 "songs of history").
In such circumstances, the future is stressed to give hope and focus to the
people and a true reason for continuation.
In the same vein, the celebration of Tu B'shevat is recognition of the future
benefits of the spring that await us. A new crop is beginning to come through
and new fruits are on the horizon. Spiritually also, we are beginning to go
through the process of "hitchadshut" (spiritual renewal), which is
described in glowing terms in the Chassidic writings. Our tradition of a Tu
B'shevat seder is not a coincidence. Both the seders of Passover and Tu
B'shevat preempt the future and the celebration of freedom and renewal and all
that this entails. This is even reflected in the custom to feed the birds on
Shabbat Shira, which is found in various sources. This is a simple way of
showing our faith in the future as the animal world begins to stir again after
the winter inactivity.