Cantor’s Corner

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Cantor’s Corner2017-11-29T22:32:47+00:00

Cantor’s Notes

Each winter, as the days get shorter and the cold settles in, the Jewish calendar moves along. Shabbat comes, thankfully, every week and we enjoy its light and its warmth, its music and spirit. And the days pass by. On January 21-22, we will celebrate a holiday not necessarily fitting with air outside. We will celebrate Tu B’shevat, the Jewish holiday dedicated to trees, our Jewish Arbor Day.

There are a variety of customs associated with Tu B’Shevat.

Many observe a Tu B’shevat seder, a Passover like ritual that originated with the mystics from 16th century Tzefat, Israel. It has seen a rebirth in the recent past and is a popular ritual observed by many around the world. On Tu B’Shevat, it is customary to eat and enjoy nuts and fruits, juices and wines. Many make it a point to enjoy the seven species that are mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. And how many of us remember eating the not so tasty Bokser or Carob fruit that as children we all ‘enjoyed’ at our respective Hebrew Schools.

Tu B’shevat appears in our calendar on or shortly after Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song when we read from the Torah the portion of Beshallach which includes Moses’ Song of the Sea. A custom related to Tu B’Shevat that many do not know about is to care for and feed the birds. There is a midrash (a story that makes a connection to or elaborates upon the unchanging biblical text) involving birds and Moses. The Midrash credits birds with foiling a plan to dishonor Moses. While wandering in the desert, troublemakers tried to make Moses look like a liar when he said that no manna would fall on Shabbat. God had told Moses that a double portion would fall on Friday, thus insuring that the Israelites would not have to work by gathering on Shabbat. The troublemakers scattered manna on Friday night to make it look like it had actually fallen on Shabbat morning. But during the night, birds ate all the extra manna, so none remained on the ground as people awoke. Moses retained the people’s trust. To repay this debt of gratitude, we feed the birds on Shabbat Shirah and on Tu B’Shevat in the week that follows.

In the Song of the Sea, Moses and the people of Israel sang to God, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously”. On Shabbat Shirah – the Shabbat of the song and melody, we give thanks and food to the birds, who everyday bring their sweet music into our lives. So, on Tu B’Shevat, while we eat and enjoy the sweets of the day, let’s take a few moments to listen to the birds, hear their melodies and think of the spring and warmth that for sure are just around the corner.

Cantor Alan Sokoloff

Chanukah song sheet

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