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Beshalach – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

We are now on our way out of Egypt and slavery. We have a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of smoke by day to guide us. At the sea Moses lifts up his staff and the waters divide Grumbling and complaining will be a feature of our lives even after these miracles but the response at the time is to sing.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shirah, when we read the Song of the Sea. It was not just a song but:

Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women came out after her with timbrels and with dances

One of the things we all miss is being together in Shul and also during sad times and happy times in our personal lives. Solitary singing is not the same as being together and rejoicing together. We do not have a pillar of fire to guide us but, somehow, we grasp on to hope; to anticipate and to prepare for a better future.

On Shabbat Shirah there is another celebration which is still observed in some Sephardi communities, “Purim Saragossa”. Some 600 years ago, in 1421, in Saragossa, Spain, (or possibly Syracuse, Sicily) the community was in danger. It was only saved by the intervention of the synagogue officials, anticipating the problem whilst recalling the story of Purim.

During the past week we celebrated Tu b’Shevat, the New Year for Trees. We anticipate the coming of spring.

On Shabbat Shirah there is the custom of putting out grain for the birds. It is said to refer to the double portion of Manna being delivered on Friday and the birds being without food the next day. This custom was questioned and frowned on in ultra-orthodox circles, being considered as work on Shabbat. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, a respected Torah scholar commented:

I remember this custom from my youth and many homes of G-d fearing talmidei chachamim were accustomed to do this and no one made a fuss.

It has been a difficult time for all of us but looking forward to new growth is a measure of our hope and faith. One of our former members, Sarah Adler, who works for the charity Kisharon has planted a rose garden at Childs Hill Library, (which the charity supports). It is to be a place where those who have lost loved ones due to Covid 19 can, in the future, come to reflect.

Hopefully, the pattern of our lives and the actions we take will deliver us too.

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