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Songs & Laws

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

This month we celebrate two special Shabbats, marked by two very special Torah portions:

On February 7-8 is Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. It is so named because we read B’shallach, the portion containing the “Song of the Sea” and the joyous story of our Exodus from Egypt.

On February 15 we read Yitro, which contains the story of the people standing at Sinai, receiving the laws and the Torah from God, learning about the expectations that Judaism will place upon them.

B’shallach and Yitro. Exodus and Sinai. Songs and laws. These are, perhaps, two poles of Jewish experience.

On the one hand, Judaism is a religion of celebration. We mark most of our holidays with festive meals, special foods, songs and blessings of thanks, and being surrounded by family. In fact, in my conversations with young people toward marriage and conversion, they most often tell me that their primary Jewish associations are around happy family events.

On the other hand, Judaism is also serious business - a religion of law, ritual, and action. We pray and study. We light candles and tie tzitzit. We fill books upon books with interpretations of the Torah’s words. We believe that we are responsible to do Tikkun Olam – to perform real actions that will connect us with God and with each other, and that will make the world a better place.

I believe we need both. To be a Jew is to walk through the world with a deep sense of obligation – to God and to our fellow humans – and also to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude for the gifts and blessings that surround us. And further, the two feed one another. When we spend time immersed in communal and family celebration, we will recognize that we have both the ability and the responsibility to ensure that others have blessings as well; and when we carve out time to perform rituals and mitzvot, we can develop our own sense of gratitude.

Song and laws. Celebrations and rituals. This is the “stuff” of Judaism. During this month of B’shallach and Yitro, may we cultivate our sense of gratitude and obligation. May we give thanks for what we have and commit ourselves to providing for others.

I look forward to seeing you at our special Shabbat Shirah programs, and throughout this month.


Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Sun, February 5 2023 14 Sh'vat 5783