Feeding the Birds

Question #1: Was Mom Wrong?

“My mother always shook out crumbs in our backyard on parshas Beshalach. Although she was frum her whole life, she had little formal Jewish education, and all of her Yiddishkeit was what she picked up from her home. I discovered recently that Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah prohibits this practice. So how could my mother have done this?”

Question #2: Dog Next Door

“We have an excellent relationship with our next door neighbor, who happens not to be Jewish, although I am not sure if that affects the question. They are going away on vacation and have asked us to feed their pets while they are away. May I do so on Shabbos?”

Question #3: In the Zoo

“How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”

Introduction:

Many people have the custom of scattering wheat or breadcrumbs for the birds to enjoy as their seudas Shabbos on Shabbos Parshas Beshalach, which is called Shabbos Shirah. This practice, which we know goes back hundreds of years, has engendered halachic discussion as to whether it is actually permitted. I will first explain the reasons for the custom and then the halachic issues and discussion, which we can trace from the earliest commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch to the recent authorities. I am also assuming that there is no problem of carrying – in other words, we are discussing scattering food within an area enclosed by an eruv.

Manna on Shabbos

To explain the reason for this practice that my mother taught me and that my mother-in-law taught my wife, we need to first look at our parsha. Moshe informed Bnei Yisroel that no manna would fall on Shabbos morning, and that the double portion received on Friday would suffice for two days. The Torah teaches that some Jews went to look for manna anyway on Shabbos morning, but did not find any.

According to the traditional story, Doson and Aviram took some of their own leftover manna from Friday, which means that they went a bit hungry that day. They placed this manna outside the Jewish camp, and in the morning they informed the people that manna had fallen. Their attempt to discredit the miracle failed when the people went to look and found nothing there. This was because some birds had arrived to eat the manna before the people would find it. To reward the birds for preventing a chillul Hashem, people spread food for the birds to eat.

Like the birds

I saw another reason for this practice, also related to the falling of the manna. According to this reason, placing feed for birds is to remind us that Hashem provided food for us in the desert, similar to the way birds readily find their food without any difficulty.

Birds sing

Others cite a different basis for the practice. According to this version, the reason for feeding the birds on this Shabbos is because on Shabbos Shirah, we commemorate the Jews singing praise to Hashem after being saved at the Yam Suf. According to this reason, the birds also sang shirah at the Yam Suf, and we feed them to commemorate the event (Tosafos Shabbos 324:17, and several later authorities who quote him). As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word tzipor is based on the Aramaic word tzafra,which means morning, and expresses the concept that birds sing praise to Hashem every morning (see Ramban, Vayikra 14:4).

There is a fascinating account transmitted verbally from the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch, who heard from his grandfather, the Ba’al HaTanya, that their ancestor, the Maharal of Prague, would do the following on Shabbos Shirah: First, he told the rebbei’im of the schools and the fathers to bring the children to the shul courtyard. He then instructed the rabbei’im to relate to the children the story of Keri’as Yam 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 afterward fed them to the birds that sang.

No local songbirds

Although I have not yet explained the halachic controversy surrounding this custom, I will share a difference in practical halacha that might result from the dispute between the different reasons. According to the first two reasons, one would spread food for the birds, even if one lives in an area where the bird population includes no songbirds. According to the third approach, in such a place there would be no reason to observe the practice.

Questionable practice

Notwithstanding that Jews have been observing the custom of spreading food for birds on Shabbos Shirah for several hundred years, there is a major halachic controversy about its observance. This is based on a Mishnah and a passage of the Gemara that discuss whether on Shabbos one may provide water and food for birds and other creatures that are not dependent on man for their daily bread or birdseed. The reason for this prohibition is, apparently, because this type of activity, being unnecessary for one’s observance of Shabbos, is viewed as a tircha yeseirah. I will explain this as “distracting exertion,” meaning that Chazal did not want us involving ourselves in what they determined to be unnecessary activities, since this detracts from the sanctity of the Shabbos day.

I have seen much discussion about the custom of feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah, but virtually all in Ashkenazic sources. It seems to me that this custom is either predominantly or exclusively an Ashkenazic practice. The only Sephardic authority I have found who mentions the practice is the Kaf Hachayim, who lived in the twentieth century, and whose work predominantly anthologizes earlier commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. Therefore, his reporting the Ashkenazic authorities who discuss the custom does not necessarily reflect that any Sefardic communities observed this practice.

At this point, we need to discuss the background to the halachic question about the practice of feeding the birds on Shabbos Shirah.

The original source

The Mishnah (Shabbos 155b) rules that one may not place water before bees or doves that live in cotes, but one may do so before geese, chickens and Hardisian doves.

What type of dove?

There are actually three different texts of this Mishnah. According to one version, one is prohibited to water “Hardisian” doves (Rashi), which refers to a geographic location where they raised doves similarly to the way ducks or geese are raised as livestock.A second version prohibits providing water to “Herodian” doves (Rambam, Bartenura). This text refers to a variety of domesticated bird developed by Herod, or, more likely, by his bird keepers. (The Meleches Shelomoh cites a third text, which is not pertinent to our discussion.)

In a passage of Gemara relevant to the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, the prohibition against taking the mother bird and her eggs or young offspring, the Gemara (Chullin 139b) provides two texts and explanations as to which of these two types of birds, Hardisian doves or Herodian doves, is excluded from the prohibition. In the context of shiluach hakein, the prohibition is dependent on the birds being ownerless, and both Hardisian and Herodian doves have owners. (From the Gemara’s description, it appears that Herodian doves may have been a variety of parrot or other talking bird. We have no mesorah that parrots are a kosher species of bird, which is one of the halachic requirements for the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, but that does not preclude understanding the Gemara this way.)

In either instance, it is permitted to take both the mother and the offspring of both Hardisian and Herodian birds, because the Torah prohibits doing so only when the birds are hefker, ownerless, which these birds are not. The Gemara describes the large numbers of these birds that were raised, something that today’s breeders of chickens can only envy.

Although these varieties of birds were well known at the time of the Mishnah, by the time of the Gemara, these varieties were heading toward extinction.

Watering birds

Returning to the Mishnah in Shabbos, according to either text, “Hardisian” or “Herodian,” one may provide these birds with water on Shabbos. Our first question is why the Mishnah permits one to water geese, chickens and these doves, but not bees nor doves that reside in cotes. The Gemara provides two answers to explain why there is a difference.

The first answer is that bees and most doves are not dependent on mankind for their sustenance, whereas geese, chickens, and these varieties of domesticated doves are. The Gemara then provides a second answer that limits the prohibition to water, since it is readily available without human assistance. According to the second answer, there is no prohibition against feeding birds on Shabbos. The prohibition is only that one should not provide water to those birds and insects that can easily get their hydration on their own.

Feeding on Yom Tov

According to some rishonim, we find a similar discussion regarding providing food for animals on Yom Tov (Rashi, Beitzah 23b).

Dogs versus pigs

In the same discussion of Gemara, it quotes a beraisa (a teaching dating back to the era of the Mishnah) that permits feeding dogs on Shabbos, but prohibits feeding pigs. The beraisa itself asks why there is a difference, and explains that the sustenance of one’s dogs is dependent on the owner, but the sustenance of his pigs is not.

This leads to an obvious question: Both of these species are non-kosher, yet the beraisa does not prohibit feeding one’s dogs. It also does not say that it depends on whether he owns them or not. Rashi explains that since a curse was placed on any Jew who raises pigs (see Sotah 49b), Jews should not be responsible for feeding them, and therefore Chazal prohibited doing so. Although pigs are often domesticated by people who are not concerned about observing the halacha that prohibits raising them (Sotah 49b), Chazal expanded this prohibition and ruled that, even should someone own a pig, he may not feed it on Shabbos since the sustenance of a pig should not be dependent on a Jew (see Rashi, Shabbos ad locum; Magen Avraham, Machatzis Hashekel). On the other hand, one may feed dogs on Shabbos, since it is permitted to own a dog, particularly in a farm setting, where dogs are useful for herding sheep and other activities.

Only my dog?

In relation to this question, we find a dispute among early acharonim. The Magen Avraham, one of the greatest of the early commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch, rules that you may feed any non-dangerous dog on Shabbos, whether you own it or not. He understands that the Gemara meant that you may feed any animals that are dependent on man, and you may feed all dogs, but you may not feed any pigs, even when they are dependent on man, since a Jew is not supposed to raise pigs (Machatzis Hashekel).

On the other hand, other authorities rule that one may feed a dog only when it is dependent on a Jew for food (see Elyah Rabbah 324:11).

The halachic authorities note that there are a few instances in which it is permitted for a Jew to own a pig. One situation is when he received it as payment of a debt; another is that he inherited it from someone not observant. The halacha is that he is permitted to sell it, and that he may wait until he is offered a market value price for it. In the interim, he is permitted to feed it, even on Shabbos, since it is dependent on him for food (Machatzis Hashekel).

Based on this analysis, the geonim permitted feeding silkworms on Shabbos (Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 324:12). Similarly, some authorities explain that the Gemara’s discussion is only about feeding animals that one does as a matter of course, but that one may and should provide food to any animal that is hungry (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 324:2).

Which way do we rule?

The authorities dispute which answer of the Gemara we follow. The Rif, the Rambam (21:36) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 324:11) conclude that we follow the stricter approach, whereas the Ran and the Olas Shabbos conclude that the more lenient approach may be followed. Thus, according to the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion, one may not provide either food or water on Shabbos to bees, doves or any other creature that is not dependent on man, while according to the Ran, one may provide them with food but not water. It should be noted that, in situations where it is permitted to feed the animals, one may even put food directly in their mouths (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 324:10).

Nextdoor dog

At this point, we can mention the last of our opening questions. “We have an excellent relationship with our next door neighbor, who is not Jewish, although I am not sure if that affects the question. They are going away on vacation and have asked us to feed their pets while they are away. May I do so on Shabbos?” “How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”

The second question is easy to answer. Since these animals are in captivity, they are dependent on man for food, and one is not only permitted, but required, to make sure that they have adequate feed on Shabbos. The first question may be a bit more complicated. These animals generally are not dependent on the Jewish neighbor, but this Shabbos they will be. I refer those who want to analyze this question further to a short piece by Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shulchan Shelomoh (Chapter 324), in which he discusses a related topic.

The custom on Shabbos Shirah

At this point, we should discuss our opening question, whether it is indeed permitted to feed birds on Shabbos Shirah. The Magen Avraham (324:7) mentions the practice of providing grain for birds to eat on Shabbos Shirah, and states that the practice is in violation of the halacha. This approach is followed by most of the halachic commentaries, including the Elyah Rabbah, the Machatzis Hashekel, the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and the Mishnah Berurah. However, there are some authorities who justify the practice. For example, the Tosafos Shabbos suggests it is permitted, since we are doing it not to make sure the birds are fed but to perpetuate the minhag. Thus, he posits, the ethical and religious intent renders the activity permitted. A few of the later commentaries – those who, in general, strive to justify common practice – are lenient, either citing the reason of the Tosafos Shabbos, or similar approaches (Aruch Hashulchan 324:3; Daas Torah).

Muktzah

An interesting additional halachic side point is that the early authorities discuss scattering grains, or specifically wheat, to the birds. In earlier days, when people owned farm animals and used grains as feed, these grains were not muktzah on Shabbos. However, most of us do not own raw grain, and, since we can neither grind it nor cook it on Shabbos, and we do not eat it or feed it to animals as raw kernels, these grains are muktzah on Shabbos (see Aruch Hashulchan 517:2).

Shaking out the tablecloth

Even among the very late authorities, we find a dispute as to whether one may feed the birds on Shabbos Shirah. The sefer Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (27:21) rules that one should not, following the approach of the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah. However, he suggests a way of fulfilling the custom without creating any halachic problem. His advice is to shake out the tablecloth after the meal in a place where the birds can eat the crumbs. He bases this on the ruling of the Eishel Avraham of Butchach (324:11 s.v. Gam), who says that, when throwing or discarding food, there is no requirement to make sure that one does not throw it in front of animals. The prohibition is doing extra work on behalf of animals that otherwise will be able to fend for themselves easily. Shaking out the tablecloth is not an unnecessary Shabbos activity.

Another suggestion is to spread crumbs before Shabbos, which allows the birds to feast on them on Shabbos without involving any halachic question.

On the other hand, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg contends that feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah has an old, venerated history – he notes that he remembers it being practiced in the households of many gedolei Yisroel, without anyone questioning whether one may. He mentions the different reasons cited above why one may be lenient (Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer, Vol. XIV, #28). In conclusion, I advise each reader to ask his or her own rav or posek whether to follow the practice.

Conclusion

We should not conclude from this discussion that halacha is opposed to our taking care of animals. The Tosefta (Bava Kama,end of Chapter 9)states, “Rabbi Yehudah said, in the name of Rabban Gamliel: ‘Know this sign well: as long as you act with mercy, Hashem will have mercy on you.’” Sefer Chassidim #666 notes: If we are merciful to our animals, Hashem and others will be merciful to us.

The point is that when the animals can easily take care of themselves, we should be devoting Shabbos to our own personal growth and not become distracted from this goal. After all, Shabbos is our reminder that Hashem created the entire universe.

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!

 

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