Posted on January 29, 2021
From the Rabbi’s Desk
There is a custom to feed the birds on Shabbat Shirah. There are many reasons given for this custom — a sure sign that no one knows for sure why this custom exists. Perhaps it is as simple as an appreciation for nature’s singers on the Shabbat of Song. But my favorite explanation is this one:
After the people of Israel finished singing and praising God for taking them out of Egypt, they found that they had a new problem. What were they to eat in the desert? God solved that problem too. Every night while they slept, the manna fell to the ground, and every morning they gathered food for the day. Well, not precisely every day. When the first Friday came, Moshe explained to the people that the manna would not fall on Shabbat, so they should gather double that morning; it would need to last for that day and the next day. The Torah relates that on Saturday morning some folks went out to see if it was true that the manna would not fall on Shabbat — they doubted that manna could tell the day of the week. The Midrash adds that there were a couple of troublemakers among the Israelites who wanted to play into those doubts and make people think that God and Moses were lying. They wanted to sow mistrust. So they gathered extra extra manna on Friday and in the middle of the night, they went outside and spread the manna on the ground. They planned to gloat: “See! Moshe was telling you stories — the manna does indeed fall on Shabbat! Clearly it is natural for the desert and not even from God.” But they never got a chance to say that because birds came and ate the planted manna before the Israelites woke up. In gratitude and appreciation for that action, we feed the birds every Shabbat Shirah.
The Song of the Sea is in large measure a poem expressing gratitude and appreciation to God. This story adds gratitude and appreciation for small players in God’s world, reminding us to appreciate what we see around us and the help we are given.
May your Shabbat Shirah be filled with Shabbat song, bird song, and gratefulness.