WHY SHABBOS SHIRAH?
It is interesting to note that Shabbos Shirah is the only Shabbos that has a unique name based on the parsha. The Shabbosos of the four parshiyos, Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh and Shabbos Shuva receive their names from the haftarah, not from the parsha. Thus, Shabbos Parshas Yisro is not called Shabbos Aseres HaDibros and Shabbos Parshas Noach is not Shabbos HaMabul. Why does the Shabbos of Parshas Beshalach get this distinction? Additionally, the shirah is not the only seminal topic of the parsha. There is also Parshas HaMan and Parshas Marah in which Hashem starts giving mitzvos to Klal Yisroel, one of which is Shabbos. Why is this Shabbos not referred to as Shabbos HaMan or Shabbos Shabbos?
The Shirah is unique. The Torah consists of what Hashem said to Klal Yisroel. Az Yashir however, is what Klal Yisroel said to Hashem, and what they said became part of the Torah. This is because when they sang this shirah, they attained the highest levels of prophecy, as it says, “a maidservant saw at the sea more than what (the great prophets) Yeshayahu and Yechezkel saw” (Mechilta d’Rebbi Yishmael, Beshalach, Mesichta d’Shirah #3). Therefore, we call this Shabbos, Shabbos Shirah, in order to remind ourselves of the great spiritual potential of Klal Yisroel (Sefer HaToda’ah, Shevat, s.v., Shabbos Shirah).
PIYUTIM: YOTZROS AND GEULAH
The Rishonim quoted above discuss two minhagim in relation to this Shabbos. Sefer HaMinhagim writes that, “on Shabbos Shirah we say Yom LaYabashah, and some places do not say it.” He is referring to the piyut that is often sung at the meal following a bris milah. This piyut originally was part of the davening in some communities and is referred to as a “Geulah.” Let us explain this term.
Some readers might be familiar with the additional tefilos called “Yotzros.” The most commonly recited are those added to the Shabbos morning davening in some communities when reading the four parshiyos: Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh. They are incorporated into the first bracha of birchos Kri’as Shema, which starts with the words, “Yotzair or,” hence the term “yotzros.” Although reciting yotzros only on these four Shabbosos is a fairly commone custom, there are communities who recited yotzros on many other “special” Shabbosos during the year. In one siddur I found additional piyutim for no less than twenty-eight Shabbosos and other occasions.
Another type of addition is called a “geulah.” While yotzros are added to the first bracha of birchos kri’as Shema, the “geulah,” as can be implied by the name, was added to the last bracha which ends with “Ga’al Yisroel.” According to Siddur Otzar HaTefilos (vol. II), the piyut of Yom LaYabashah was added to the davening on Shabbos Parshas Beshalach and whenever there was a bris. This is probably why it became customary to sing this piyut at the bris meal.
Although the minhag of reciting Yom LaYabasha as a piyut during davening has fallen into disuse in most communities, there are still many who are accustomed to sing it during the meals of Shabbos Shirah (Darchei Chaim v’Shalom #832; Siddur Beis Aharon [Karlin]; Sefer Mo’adim LeSimcha, pg. 74).
Another custom mentioned in both Sefer HaMinhagim and in Sefer Maharil regarding this Shabbos is the haftarah, the portion of Navi read after Kri’as HaTorah. Each parsha in the Chumash has its own haftarah, which in some way reminds one about the topics of the parsha or some special occasion of that Shabbos, such as Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah, or the four parshiyos. There used to be a custom to read a special haftarah on the Shabbos when a chasan was called to the Torah (Shulchan Orach Chaim 144:2, 425:2, 428:9). There is a disagreement among the Rishonim what to do when there is a chasan in shul on Shabbos Shirah; should the regular haftarah of Shiras Devorah (Shoftim 4) be read or should they read both Shiras Devorah and the haftarah in honor of the chasan, Sos Asis (Yeshayahu 61:10-63:9). This disagreement has no practical ramifications as the minhag of reading the haftarah for a chasan has fallen into disuse (Aruch HaShulchan 428:7).
In many communities there were and still are various minhagim regarding the davening on this Shabbos. In Frankfurt, there was a custom to sing Az Yashir during Pesukei d’Zimra and also to sing from “MiMitzrayim ge’altanu” until “Tzur Yisroel” in birchos kri’as Shema (Sefer Moadim LeSimcha, pg. 69, quoting seforim of minhagei Frankfurt).
In several kehilos, although the custom is not necessarily to sing Az Yashir, however they recite it possuk by possuk (Minhagei Mattersdorf; Darchei Chaim v’Shalom #832; Minhag Belz). It seems however, that there are two minhagim as to how the Shirah is said. In some locations, the entire congregation including the chazzan, recites each possuk in unison; while in other shuls, the chazzan recites a possuk and the tzibbur repeats it. It has been suggested that these two approaches of how to recite the shirah have their roots in a disagreement in the Gemara.
The Gemara (Sotah 30b) discusses how the Bnei Yisroel recited the shirah after kri’as Yam Suf. One opinion maintains that Moshe said one possuk and the Bnei Yisroel repeated it; Moshe said the next possuk and they repeated that possuk as well, and so on. According to another opinion, Moshe initiated the shirah and the rest of Klal Yisroel attained prophecy and were able to join in with him reciting it simultaneously (Sefer Nachalah LeYisroel 10:56, quoted in Sefer Mo’adim LeSimchah, pg. 70).
It is worthwhile to point out that the Mishnah Berurah (51:17) writes regarding the daily recital of Shiras HaYam in pesukei d’zimra: “One should recite shiras hayam joyfully, and he should imagine that he crossed the sea that day. One who recites it with joy, will receive forgiveness for his sins.”
MINHAGIM DURING KRI’AS HATORAH
When leining from the Torah on fast days, most shuls have a custom that three pessukim are first recited aloud by the tzibbur and then by the ba’al kri’ah: 1) Shuv mei’charon apecha (Shemos 32:12), 2) Hashem, Hashem [the thirteen Divine attributes of mercy] (ibid. 34:6-7), and 3) v’Salachta (ibid. 34:9). One of the sources of this minhag is the Avudraham (Seder HaParshiyos v’HaHaftaros in the name of Rav Saadiah Gaon). However, he maintains that this custom of reciting pessukim out loud by the tzibbur was not limited to these three possukim. Rather there are ten such pessukim where the custom is to do so, and most of them are from the shirah: 1) Hashem yilachem lachem (ibid. 14:14), 2) Vaya’aminu baHashem (14:31), 3) Hashem Ish milchamah (15:3), 4) Mi chomocha ba’eilim (15:11), 5) Mikdash Hashem konanu yadecha (15:17), 6) Hashem yimloch l’olam va’ed (15:18), 7) Ki macho emcheh (17:14), 8-9) the first two which are read on fasts quoted above, and 10) Timcheh es zeicher Amaleik (Devarim 25:19). However, this custom has fallen into disuse, except for the pessukim of the fast day reading.
The generally accepted minhag is that when leining Az Yashir on Shabbos Shirah, a special melodious tune is used instead of the regular trop (cantillations). However, different shuls have varying minhagim as to which pessukim are read with the special tune (Sefer Moadim LeSimchapg. 73).
It is also common practice to give honor to the Rav of the community by giving him the aliyah in which Shiras HaYam is read (Shu”t Radvaz #304; Magen Avraham 428:8).
In the event that there are many people who require an aliyah on Shabbos and it is customary to add aliyos beyond the mandatory seven, nevertheless, the minhag is that the Shirah is read in one aliyah and not divided (Avudraham ibid.; Sha’arei Efraim 7:25).
In many kehilos the minhag is to stand during the aliyah of Shiras HaYam from “Vayosha” until the end of the Shirah (Sefer Ketzos HaShulchan 84, Badei HaShulchan 22). One reason is based on the idea that the recital of the shirah by Moshe and Bnei Yisroel was comparable to the recital of Hallel (Mishnah Sotah 27b). The halacha is that Hallel is to be said standing (Shulchan Aruch 422:7), because one is testifying to the fact that Hashem did miracles for us, and testimony must be said while standing. Therefore, the custom is to stand during the shirah, and perhaps this is also the reason why some people stand for Az Yashir during pesukei d’zimra (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 14:4; Badei HaShulchan ibid.). Another reason for standing during the shirah is based on the Zohar (Lech-Lecha 81b) which says that Dovid HaMelech merited to be the ancestor of Moshiach because he stood up in order to say shirah, as it says (Tehillim 119:62), “I will arise to praise You” (Siddur Tzelosa d’Avraham, pg. 168).
On the other hand, there are those who do not have this minhag to stand during Krias HaTorah (Kaf HaChaim 494:30). It is reported that although Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky z”l stood during the leining of the Aseres HaDibros, he remained seated during Az Yashir (Sefer Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. I, pg. 120 #85).
Additionally, there are those who argue that if one is sitting during leining, he should not get up for the Shirah or the Aseres HaDibros. This is based on a Gemara (Brachos 11b-12a) that in the Beis HaMikdash the Aseres HaDibros were read together with Kri’as Shema on a daily basis, and it was suggested to institute this outside the Beis HaMikdash also. However, it became necessary to abandon this plan due to the heretics who tried convincing the simple people that only the Aseres HaDibros are the truth, while the rest of the Torah is not, chas v’shalom. They reasoned that since it is only the Aseres HaDibros that are being read, it must be the only thing that Hashem said at Har Sinai (Rashi ibid.). Based on this Gemara, some maintain that if we specifically stand up for the Aseres HaDibros or Az Yashir, this will lead people to claim that only these two parshiyos are Toras emes.
However, Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim vol. IV, #22) maintains that this is not a reason to abandon the custom of standing while these parshiyos are read. The Gemara was speaking of a specific incident and we cannot extrapolate from there to create a new prohibition. Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit”a suggests that if one wishes to be stringent and is concerned about the above argument, he should stand up a few pessukim before the Shirah or Aseres HaDibros. In this way, he will not be standing up specifically for these two parshiyos and there can no longer be a claim that only these are emes (Shu”t Teshuvos v’Hanhagos, vol. I, #144; see also Pischei She’arim to Sha’arei Efraim 7:37).
If one is accustomed to sit during Aseres HaDibros or the Shirah and he finds himself in a shul where the tzibbur stands, he must act in accordance with the local custom (Sha’arei Efraim ibid.; Shu”t Igros Moshe, ibid.).
THIS IS FOR THE BIRDS
There is a well-known minhag of putting out wheat for the birds on Shabbos Shirah. Before mentioning the reasons for this custom, we first must discuss whether or not it is at all permitted to feed wild animals and birds on Shabbos. (Please note: All of the Acharonim that deal with this topic discuss the permissibility of wheat. However, all of the current poskim maintain that wheat kernels are muktzah on Shabbos. In the earlier generations wheat was not considered muktzah as most people used it to feed their animals. Now that most do not have animals that eat wheat, it is muktzah. This is probably the reason why it has become the custom to put out breadcrumbs instead of wheat.)
In order to enhance the Shabbos, Chazal forbade doing certain activities. Included in this is the prohibition of feeding and giving drink to creatures of the animal kingdom. Chazal referred to this as “tirchah yeseirah” – overexertion. The Gemara (Shabbos 155b) discusses what is permitted and what is forbidden in this regard. There are basically two opinions in the Rishonim how to understand this Gemara. According to the Ran, one may feed birds, even when they are not dependent on humans for their food, because food is not readily available to them. However, since water for drink is easily obtained, one may not give them drink.
However, the Rambam and the Rif, maintain that one may not give any food or drink to any creature that is not dependent on humans, irrespective of whether food or drink is readily available.
The Shulchan Aruch follows the opinion of the Rambam and the Rif. Therefore, one may only feed and give drink to domesticated animals, fish and fowl that are dependent on humans. However, any creature that can fend for itself and is not dependent on humans for its sustenance, may not be fed or given drink (Shulchan Aruch 324:11). Based on this, the Magen Avraham (7) maintains that one may not put out wheat for the birds on Shabbos Shirah, since they are not dependent on humans. This opinion is quoted by the Mishnah Berurah (31) and other Acharonim (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 324:8; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 87:18).
Many will contend that the final halachic authority for our generation is the Mishnah Berurah and one should follow his opinion. Nevertheless, this custom is a well-known minhag Yisroel and in the words of the Tzitz Eliezer (vol. XIV, #28), “I remember this custom from my youth and many homes of G-d fearing talmidei chachamim were accustomed to do this and no one made a fuss.” Therefore, we shall dedicate a part of this discussion to the justification of this minhag.
WHY IS IT PERMITTED?
There are many Acharonim who disagree with the Shulchan Aruch and Magen Avraham and maintain that the halacha follows the opinion of the Ran that one may feed birds if food is not readily available. They contend that the prohibition of feeding birds is only applicable during the summer, but in the winter when food is not available, it is permitted to feed them (Olas Shabbos, quoted in Machatzis HaShekel 324:7). It is interesting to note that although the Chazon Ish in theory agreed with the Ran’s explanation of the Gemara, in practice he instructed people to follow the opinion of the Magen Avraham and Mishnah Berurah (Sefer Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim, 59:1, s.v., Shabbos 155b; Sefer Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. I, pg. 152, #201).
Some maintain that the prohibition of feeding animals that are not dependent on humans for food only applies if one places the food directly in front of the animals. By doing so, one is obviously involving himself with unnecessary bothersome activities. However, if one were to merely place food outside when the animals or birds are not there, this is permitted (Mekor Chaim [Chavos Ya’ir], 324; Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer ibid.).
Others justify the minhag with the claim that since the birds sang shirah after Kri’as Yam Suf, it is a mitzvah and not a tircha to give them food to eat because of hakaras hatov (Sefer Tosafos Shabbos 17; Da’as Torah 324:11; Aruch HaShulchan 324:3: Kaf HaChaim 324:47; Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer ibid.).
Some suggest that in order to practice the minhag and also to take into account the opinion of the Magen Avraham and the many poskim who cite him, one should put crumbs outside immediately before Shabbos. At that time, it is unlikely that the birds will come, and it will be available for them on Shabbos morning (Toras Shabbos 324:15).
For those who wish to keep up the custom and are concerned about the stringent opinion, another practical solution is to shake off the crumbs from the tablecloth outside (where there is an eruv) after the meal. Even though the birds will eat the crumbs, this is not considered to be the tircha of feeding animals, as he is just cleaning up after the meal (Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah 27:21).
REASONS FOR THE MINHAG
There is a fascinating account transmitted verbally from the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch who heard from his grandfather, the Ba’al HaTanya, that his ancestor, the Maharal of Prague, established the following minhag on Shabbos Shirah: The Maharal told all of the Talmud Torah rabbeim and fathers to bring all of the children to the shul courtyard. He then instructed the rabbeim to relate to the children the story of Kri’as Yom Suf, how the birds sang and danced while Moshe and the Bnei Yisroel sang Az Yashir, and that the children crossing Yam Suf took fruits from trees growing there and afterwards fed them to the birds that sang.
The Maharal then instructed that kasha (buckwheat) be distributed to the children so that they could throw it to the birds as a remembrance of the fruits that the children fed to the birds after singing the shirah. After this, the Maharal blessed the children and their parents that they should merit to raise their children to Torah, chupah and ma’asim tovim (Sefer Mo’adim LeSimchah, Teves-Adar, pg. 61).
Another beautiful reason for this minhag is explained by way of a parable: A king had a large palace with many different rooms for the various ministers, and each minister received a room according to his importance. The king had a special room for himself, in which there was only one thing: a little songbird. Even though the king could have large orchestras play whatever he desired, he preferred listening to the sweet music of the songbird. This is a moshol to our relationship with Hashem. Yisroel is compared to a bird, as it says (Tehillim 84:4), “Also a bird found a home.” After Yetzi’as Mitzrayim and Kri’as Yom Suf, when all of the angels desired to sing Hashem’s praises, the only shirah that the Ribbono shel olam desired was that of Klal Yisroel. This comparison is alluded to by giving food to the birds (Knesses Yisroel [Admor mei’Ruzhin], end of Parshas Beshalach).
There is a more famous reason for feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah that has nothing to do with Az Yashir. After Moshe informed Bnei Yisroel that no manna would fall on Shabbos morning and the double portion that they received on Friday would suffice for two days, Dassan and Aviram plotted to discredit Moshe. On Friday night they took their left-over manna and placed it in the field in order that they would “find” it on Shabbos morning. In the morning, they informed the people that manna had fallen, but when they went out to the field, nothing was there. This was because Hashem had sent birds to eat the manna before the people would see it. Since Parshas Beshalach also relates the story of the manna, we feed the birds on this Shabbos in order to reward them. (Although this does not seem to be a midrash, it is cited in many sources. Sefer Torah Sheleimah [Rav M. Kasher] (Shemos 16:27) in a footnote cites Sefer Matamim in the name of the Yalkut. See: Nimukei Orach Chaim [HaRav mi’Munkatch] #324; Likutei Mahri’ach, Teves.)
In addition to the custom of giving wheat to birds, there is another fascinating minhag connected to wheat and Shabbos Shirah. There is a discussion among the poskim regarding the correct bracha acharonah to be recited after eating wheat. This topic is beyond the scope of our discussion. However the Bach writes (Orach Chaim 208) that, “according to the custom of eating whole wheat grains on Shabbos Shirah, one should be careful… only to eat them during a meal.” In order to gain an appreciation of the age of this custom, one should keep in mind that the Bach lived over 350 years ago. This minhag was prevalent in Western Europe and is also cited in Minhagei Frankfurt and Minhagei Chasam Sofer.
One reason cited for the custom is because the manna looked like grains of wheat. Therefore, on Shabbos Shirah when the parshas haman is read, we eat wheat as a remembrance of the manna (Likutei Mahari’ach, Teves).
Rav Yehudah Michal Benga Segal, a trustee and a ba’al tekiah of the Frankfurt kehillah over 250 years ago, in his sefer Koach Yehudah, suggested another possible reason behind this custom. Although the primary time for commencing the Pesach preparations is Purim, as is indicated by the halacha that one begins studying Hilchos Pesach thirty days before the holiday (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 429:1), some things required more time. One such item was wheat for matzos. The grains had to be checked, ground, sifted and stored in a chometz-free environment, all of which took much time and effort. Owing to the usual poor traveling conditions of the European winters, these preparations had to be started well before Purim.
Therefore, the Pesach wheat was bought for Shabbos Shirah, which is usually two months before Pesach, in order that it should be ready for grinding to make the Pesach matzah flour. Once they had the Pesach wheat, they would eat some of it on Shabbos Shirah. This was based on another minhag cited in the poskim (Magen Avraham 430:1 in the name of the Maharshal) to specifically eat Pesach wheat or flour before Pesach. Unfortunately, the reason behind that minhag is beyond the scope of our discussion. (Sefer Mo’adim LeSimcha, vol. III, pg. 66). Interestingly, some have a custom of preparing a kugel from Pesach flour for Shabbos Hagadol (Luach Minhagei Belz).
THE TEN SONGS
According to the midrash (Mechilta d’Rebbi Yishmael, Beshalach, Mesichta d’Shira, #1), ten songs were sung to Hashem: 1) On the night of Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, 2) after Kri’as Yam Suf, 3) by the well in the desert (Bamidbar 21:17), 4) Moshe’s transcribing the Torah which is referred as a shirah (Devarim 31:24), 5) Yehoshua sang shirah when he stopped the sun in Givon and the moon in Emek Ayalon (Yehoshua 10:12), 6) Devorah and Barak ben Avinoam sang shirah after Sisra’s defeat (Shoftim 5:1), 7) Dovid sang shirah when he was saved from his enemies (Shmuel II 22:1), 8) Shlomo sang shirah when he inaugurated the Beis HaMikdash (Tehillim 30:1), 9) King Yehoshafat sang shirah and was saved from the enemy (Divrei HaYamim II 20), 10) the shirah that will be sung in the future when Moshiach comes (Yeshayahu 42:10).
The midrash points out that the first nine songs were referred to in the feminine form, shirah, while the last one, shir, is masculine. The reason for this is that generally speaking, after a woman gives birth to a child, she will eventually repeat the entire process, thus subjecting herself again to the pains of childbirth. This cycle of childbirth, pain and childbirth represents our existence in this world. Hashem brings salvation, which prompts shirah. He again puts us through trial and tribulation, and again saves us. This is all true until Moshiach comes, when the shir that will be sung is “masculine.” A man cannot give birth. Once we experience the final geulah and sing that final shir, there will be no more pain and suffering. May we merit to see it very soon!
This article originally appeared in the US edition of Yated Neeman.