In this week’s Parsha, B’Shalach, we learn of the birthing of the people into freedom. We read of the song they sang, Az Yashir, and how Miriam, the prophetess, with timbrel in hand, lead all the women in song and dance. But this joy is followed by a new challenge. For three days the people go without water.
Finally, they find water but it is bitter. The people complain, Moses cries out to God. The Ineffable Wisdom shows him a (certain) tree to cast into the water, making it sweet. They were then given a number of Mitzvot.
How can we understand this? The Zohar (Sacred Kabbalistic Text), explains that it is the wood from the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden. Hassidic commentaries offer that we can eliminate bitterness and evil by acts of goodness. And it makes sense that the sweetening of the bitter waters opens our hearts to receiving and doing mitzvot. Mitzvot, right actions, are the antidotes for life’s bitter waters. I would also note that speaking out, as the people did, was critical in this process.
We also yearn for sweet waters. Watching the beginning and end of “State of the Union” address last night was like tasting the bitter waters. For weeks, months, the waters have been bitter. I’m grateful that an “angel of the Holy One” caused a deep sleep for most of the talk. It’s never good to listen to Lashon HaRah and deceptive talk, G’nuvat Daat.
What do we do? Only doing good will sweeten the bitter waters. Crying out against injustice and lies is what is needed. Helping to get the vote out will sweeten the waters.
This Shabbat is also known as Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. Singing also dispels darkness. Also, beginning Sunday evening, we celebrate Tu Bishvat, the new year of the trees. At our Tu Bishvat Seder we will once again participate in this Kabbalistic tradition of directing our energies to help the sap rise in our fruit bearing trees. We will offer blessings and sample varieties of fruits and nuts. Deep down we connect with the Tree of Life. Join us. May we grow tall “like the cedars of Levanon.” Reb David