Shabbos Shirah

By Rabbis Avraham Rosenthal and Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: Shabbos Shirah

Why is this Shabbos called Shabbos Shirah?

Question #2: Shouldn’t I know where I stand?

Should I stand or sit while reciting Oz Yashir?

Question #3: Yom Layabashah

Why do some people recite Yom Layabashah at a bris?

Shabbos Parshas Beshalach is called Shabbos Shirah – the Shabbos of the Song. This refers to the Shiras HaYam, the song of thanks that the Jewish nation sang to Hashem after crossing through the Red Sea on dry land and seeing their enemies drown. The name Shabbos Shirah appears already in early authorities (Sefer HaMinhagim [Tyrnau], s.v. Shevat; Sefer Maharil, Hilchos Teves-Shevat-Adar, #7).

WHY SHABBOS SHIRAH?

It is interesting to note that Shabbos Shirah is the only Shabbos that has a unique name based on the parsha that is not taken from the opening words of the parsha. The Shabbosos of the four parshiyos, Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh and Shabbos Shuva receive their names from the maftir, not from the parsha. Shabbos Shuva, Shabbos Chazon, and Shabbos Nachamu receive their names from the haftarah. The Shabbosos on which we read other noteworthy events do not have a unique name; 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 authors 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 was originally part of the davening in some communities and is referred to as a “Geulah.” Let us explain this term.

There was an old custom in Klal Yisroel to recite additional tefilos called Yotzros or Piyutim on Yomim Tovim and special Shabbosos. The most commonly still recited Yotzros 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.”

Another type of addition is called a “geulah.” While yotzros are added to the first bracha of birchos Kri’as Shema, the “geulah,” as implied by the name, is added to the last bracha, which ends with “Ga’al Yisroel.” The piyut of Yom LaYabashah was added to the davening on Shabbos Parshas Beshalach and on Shabbos and other Yomim Tovim 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).

MINHAGEI HATEFILAH

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, they recite it posuk by =posuk (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 posuk and the Bnei Yisroel repeated it; Moshe said the next posuk and they repeated that posuk 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 pesukim are first recited aloud by the tzibbur and then by the ba’al kriah: 1) Shuv mei’charon apecha (Shemos 32:12), 2) Hashem, Hashem [the thirteen Divine attributes of mercy] (ibid. 34:6-7), and 3) veSalachta (ibid. 34:9). One of the sources of this minhag is the Avudraham (Seder HaParshiyos veHaHaftaros in the name of Rav Saadiah Gaon). However, he maintains that this custom of reciting pesukim out loud by the tzibbur was not limited to these three pesukim. Rather, he quotes that there are ten such pesukim where the custom is to do so, seven of which are in this week’s parsha: 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). However, this custom has fallen into disuse, except for the pesukim 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 pesukim are read with the special tune (Sefer Moadim LeSimcha, pg. 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, the minhag is that the Shirah is read in one aliyah and not divided (Avudraham ibid.; Sha’arei Efraim 7:25).

STANDING UP

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 many people have the practice of standing for Az Yashir, when reciting it during pesukei dezimra (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 deAvraham, 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 Krias Shema on a daily basis, and it was suggested to institute this outside the Beis HaMikdash, as well. 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 veshalom. 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 stand up, specifically, 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 a new prohibition from there. 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 veHanhagos, 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.).

* In this week’s article in Yated Neeman, Rabbi Kaganoff discusses the custom of feeding the birds on Shabbos Shirah.

EATING WHEAT

In addition to the custom of giving wheat or other food to birds on Shabbos Shirah, 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 poor travel conditions of 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 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, quoting Maharshal), to eat specifically Pesach wheat or flour before Pesach. The reason behind that minhag is beyond the scope of our discussion (see 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 to 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!