Parashat B'shalah--Exodus 13:17-17:36
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Questions for Young Children
• When you’re very happy what song do you sing?
• What makes the crossing of the Red Sea such a miracle?
• Do you think you would get tired of eating manna everyday?

Questions for Older Children
• Do you think it would have been hard to follow Moshe into the Red Sea to cross out of Egypt?
• Why do you think the crossing of the sea is celebrated two ways—in song and dance? Who leads each celebration?
• If you were Moshe, how would you have stopped the Israelites from complaining?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• Why does this parasha include the extremes of God performing a miracle and the Israelites celebrating the miracle on the one hand, and then their complaints on the other hand?
• What do you think of the complaints? Are they legitimate? What fears might be behind the complaints?
• Do you think you complain more when you’re frightened?

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Bring on the meat!

  • I couldn’t bring myself to cook quail, but you could approximate it with Cornish hens if you’re game. (see Exodus 16:3-13)

Create a Tu B'Shvat connection

  • Make a meal that includes the shiv'ah minim (the seven species):wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates
  • Find a Tu B'Shvat seder online to adopt or adapt.
  • Make the preserved lemons according to the recipe under A Dash of Tu B'Shvat and a Bonus Recipe. (You'll celebrate Tu B'Shvat and demonstrate more patience than the Israelites had).
  • Discuss and enjoy produce that comes from trees like nuts and olives. (The recipe for Balsamic Glazed Squash includes nuts).
  • Discuss the devastation caused by the fires that raged across the forests of Israel in 2016.  What can we do to help?
  • Why did the rabbis think it important to celebrate a new year for trees?
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Parashat B'shalah is the musical highlight of the liturgical year and includes Shirat ha-Yam, the Song of the Sea, the poem chanted after crossing Yam Suf (The Red Sea). There is both a narrative and a poetic version of how the Israelites escaped from Egypt with the Pharaoh’s chariots in hot pursuit. The poem concludes with gratitude to God for salvation. Salvation is short-lived and the parasha ends with the Amalekite threat. If it’s not one enemy, it’s another.

Immediately after the Israelites cross the Red Sea safely and praise God, they begin complaining because they lack drinking water. Moshe tries to solve the complaining problem once and for all by promising that if the Israelites would heed God and God’s commandments, they would be safe from diseases that befell the Egyptians. Two verses later, the kvetching resumes. This time God promises a miracle food--manna—plus quail in the evening. There are rules connected with the gathering of food and, of course, there are some people who test the limits and discover the consequences. The trek through the wilderness continues and the kvetching continues –no water to drink! The Amalekites are threatening us! Each time God--through Moshe--saves the Israelites. What a lesson in patience!

Find the food connection

וַיִּקְרְאוּ בֵית-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, מָן; וְהוּא, כְּזֶרַע גַּד לָבָן, וְטַעְמוֹ, כְּצַפִּיחִת בִּדְבָשׁ

And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna; and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

--Exodus 16:31

Coriander and Honey! The taste of manna on a vegetable.

 

The Side Dish

The Shabbat when we read B'shalah is called Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song. This year Shabbat Shira falls on Tu B'Shvat (the 15th of Sh'vat), the New Year for Trees. What a good Shabbat to sing together or read poetry whether it links to the parasha, to Shabbat, or the festival of Tu B'Sh'vat

How hard is it to get your family singing? In some families singing together may be the norm, but for other families singing at the table is just a little strange. The best way to break through the resistance is to begin with toddlers and younger children. You can ask them what Shabbat or Tu B'Shvat songs they’ve learned or teach a  song with limited words (like “Shabbat Shalom – hey!”) If your children are competitive, you can try a sing-down by giving them a word like “Shabbat.” Each person leads a song that includes the word. The winner of each round picks the next word. You can do this in teams or pairs as well as individually.

Those who read Hebrew can scan the parasha and see how many songs can be found based on verses from the parasha. Can anyone find the words in Shirat ha-Yam that are also in the siddur (prayer book)? I can still remember the Italian melody for Shirat ha-Yam that our Hebrew School principal Saul Wachs taught us in 1962.  There are multiple musical tradition for Shirat ha Yam which is recited during the Shaharit (morning) service.  Thanks to the internet, you can listen to multiple versions. 

For children and adults who have been to Jewish camp, singing (and pounding) at the table is probably a vivid memory. Invite some camp friends so you can sing together on this Shabbat. And—perhaps Shabbat Shira can be every week.

 

 

 

 

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A Dash of Music
This is Shabbat Shira—the Shabbat of Song! Pull out the songbooks or look at the back of the birkhonim for songs and start singing. There are CDs with Shabbat songs or perhaps, like us, you have recordings of your children from Hebrew School or day school singing Shabbat songs. Time to dust those recordings off! If your family refuses to sing, try poetry. Shira in Hebrew means both a song and a poem. You can read a translation of Shirat ha-Yam or the Song of Deborah from the haftarah.(Judges 5) For a different rendition of Shirat ha-Yam, listen to the Yemenite version on youtube.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzp4f1k78io

For a sampling of Tu B'Shvat songs, see http://www.hebrewsongs.com/tubishvat.htm

A Dash of Music History
What are the drums Miriam uses when she and the women dance after the crossing of the sea? Perhaps the tof (timbrel) is similar to a modern tambourine. This article includes an interesting summary of women’s role in celebrating military victories like the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea and Deborah’s celebration of her victory. http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/women-with-hand-drums-dancing-bible

A Dash of Tu B'Shvat including a bonus recipe

If you live in the northern latitudes, you may not witness the onset of spring with the almond tree blossoms this week.  I did notice Meyer lemons in the grocery and decided to make my own preserved lemons.  This is an essential ingredient in Moroccan dishes and although you need patience (3 months' worth), it doesn't take much skill to make this savory addition.  I'll feature two recipes for Parashat Aharei Mot-K'doshim that include preserved lemon.  Yes, that's three months away from this Shabbat.  If you can't find Meyer lemons, you can use any lemon, but make sure it's organic and without wax since you'll be eating the peel.  I know there are at least two subscribers who have a lemon tree outside their kitchen window--those lemons are even better!

Preserved Lemons

Makes one quart

Ingredients                                                                rsz preserv lemon copy

  • 1 quart jar
  • 4-6 Meyer lemons or organic lemons
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. peppercorns
  • dash of turmeric (optional)
  • small bay leaf

Directions

  1. Sterilize the jar by filling it with boiling water and then dumping out the water. Don't bother drying the jar.
  2. Mix the salt,sugar, and spices.
  3. Place 1/4 cup of the mixture in the jar.
  4. After washing the lemons, cut them in quarters and remove the obvious seeds.
  5. Squeeze the lemon juice into the jar and then insert the lemon quarters. Repeat until the jar is full.
  6. Add the remaining salt, sugar, and spice mixture and the bay leaf.  Fill the jar to the rim with water.
  7. Leave the jar in the refrigerator or on your counter for 3 months.  Every few weeks, flip the jar to make sure all the lemons have equal coverage.
  8. Wait patiently until May for vegetable and chicken recipes that require preserved lemons.

 

A Dash of Hebrew + Geography
Have you seen the Red Sea? When I saw it in 1970, I didn’t think it looked much like a sea nor did it look red. There is an algae in the Red Sea called trichodesmium erythraeum that turns the color to reddish-brown. In Hebrew the body of water the Israelites crossed is called Yam Suf which translates as the Sea of Reeds. One modern commentator claims that the Israelites crossed at the far northeastern corner of Egypt through a lagoon, (not the Sea of Reeds or the Red Sea) where papyrus reeds grow. Perhaps someone at your table knows more about ancient geography or it’s time to bring an atlas of ancient history to the table.

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Balsamic Glazed Squash with Coriander and Honey
Pareve and vegan--Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 acorn or butternut squash  rsz 04 bshalah squash copy copy
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 sliced shallots
  • 6 chopped sage leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • pinch of ground coriander
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup hazelnuts or almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450º.
  2. Peel squash (The squash is easy to peel if you pierce it and microwave it first for about 5 min.)
  3. Cut acorn squash in wedges or butternut squash in chunks and place in a plastic bag with the remainder of the ingredients except the nuts.
  4. Toss well and place in a greased baking dish (9”x13”)
  5. Roast at 450º 20 min.
  6. Turn the squash and sprinkle with ¼ cup hazelnuts or almonds and roast an additional 20 min.
  7. You can serve the squash garnished with whole, fresh sage leaves to remind your guests it's Tu B'Shvat.

Note: If you don’t think your guests will eat squash, this recipe also works well with cut-up sweet potatoes or other root vegetables like parsnips. The white parsnips approximate the look of the manna better than squash.

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