Parshat Beshalach/Tu B’Shevat

Torah Reading for Week of January 24-30, 2021
“Miracles and Wonders! A Meditation on Beshallach and Tu B’Shevat”
By Rabbi Alicia Magal, ‘03
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
We approach the sea, and it parts! And we sing the Song of the Sea – Shirat Ha-yam.  Some of the verses from this Torah portion are sung at every service during the year – Mi Chamocha – recreating the joyous moment of triumph, gratitude, and awe along with Miriam, stirring the heady vibrations of timbrels and dancing, and sung in so many different melodies and rhythms.  That short prayer/song, Mi Chamocha, acknowledges in wonder the miracles that enabled our ancestors and our liberated souls to embark on a journey to freedom out of the tight places, the Mitzrayim that is more than the geographical Egypt, but rather the restricted soul space of enslavement.
As we approach this Shabbat of Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16) we chant from the Torah in a unique melody the entirety of those special poetic verses (chapter 15: 1-21) depicting how God created an escape pathway for the fleeing Israelites – through the sea on dry land! And in the calendar in the northern hemisphere, it is still winter – air biting cold, the trees barren – but the sap is beginning to rise, an invisible movement toward new growth and renewal of life.
Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for the Trees, celebrates that unseen moment of turning, of hitting the bottom and flowing back up to greet the sunlight, the warmth, the possibility of springtime renewal that has not yet revealed itself.  This moment of dancing through a path on dry land in what was and will again be turbulent waters, this time of believing that bare branches will yield another season of flowering and fruit, this truly is a gateway of Emuna, of faith, that takes imagination and courage.  We walk, we plant, we chant, and we are carried forward in our Torah portion and in our calendar approaching the full moon of Shevat. When we return the Torah scroll to the ark we sing “Etz Chayim hi – It is a tree of life to them that hold fast to it and all its supporters are happy; Its paths are paths of pleasantness and all its ways are ways of peace.” This is a kind of hearkening back to the Garden of Eden. For a moment we glimpse that original Tree of Life and have the joyous feeling that by reading the words of Torah we are creating new leaves on this ancient tree with roots in antiquity, and by delving into commentaries and finding relevance to our own contemporary lives we are extending its branches to new generations.  May we dance with the Torah and dance at the edge of the sea, both in wonder, with open hearts and joy.