“Timbrels and Trees
By Cantor Perryne Anker, Associate Dean of the Cantorial School
I used to be afraid of the water. Truth be told, even after giving myself the gift of swimming lessons at age 75, I’m still kind of…sort of…afraid of the water.
This year, Beshalach and Tu B’shevat fall on the same Shabbat.
Beshalach, “after the Israelites were sent away,” describes the trauma and the joy of their freedom. In order to cross the sea they had to overcome their fear of the water and the other natural elements. Indeed, some of the natural elements became their weapons.
Tu B’shevat, the Jewish Arbor Day, has taken on great importance with climate change. In religious schools our students celebrate with a seder consisting of fruits and nuts with tough skins. They have begun planting gardens with fruits and vegetables, giving them a greater appreciation for the life and world we are trying to preserve. The Etz Chayim we plant is truly our tree of life. It will provide oxygen to our choked earth!
The chant for Shirat Hayam is both plaintive and celebratory. Women and water are the backbone of the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. Countless songs and stories have been written about Miriyam and the women. We dance and sing, celebrating victory over tyrants, always remembering that there is a power greater than all of us. Some call that power god, some call it nature.
“I will sing a song unto God” begins the poem. I offer this…WE shall sing a song together. WE shall preserve our earth and our history. WE shall plant trees and cross into known and unknown waters together. WE shall use our knowledge and our history to swim together.
When I dared to try snorkeling in Hawaii this past summer, my daughter-in-law and other family members held my hand and shouted words of encouragement, and…I DID IT! I saw the extraordinary fish and sea life. My heart was beating wildly but I DID IT!!! So, in the end, what overcame my fear, more than the swimming lessons, was the loving support of my family, holding my hands.
There have been so many images of folks holding hands in circles and in lines, two by two, hundreds by hundreds. Our world as we knew it is in a tumult in many ways. Our earth is thirsty. Our values and our rights are in question. But WE as Jews have never dropped hands. Let us continue to plant. Let us continue to swim, either leading the way, or holding on to the hand of another… firmly.
Song of miriam rabbi ruth sohn
I, miriam, stand at the sea and turn to face the desert stretching endless and still. My eyes are dazzled —
The sky brilliant blue, sunburst sands unyielding white.
My hands turn to dove wings.
My arms reach for the sky and i want to sing the song rising inside me. My mouth open, i stop.
Where are the words?
Where the melody?
In a moment of panic my eyes go blind.
Can i take a step without knowing a destination?
Will i falter? Will i fall? Will the ground sink away from under me?
The song still unformed — how can i sing?
To take the first step — to sing a new song —
To close one’s eyes and dive into unknown waters. For a moment knowing nothing, risking all —
but then to discover the waters are friendly.
The ground is firm and the song rises again.
Out of my mouth come words lifting the wind,
and i hear for the first time the song that has been in my heart, silent, unknown, even to me.