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Music of Freedom and Trees

I love trees, freedom and music, and they’re all coming together this week!

This coming Saturday, Jan 26th is Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. It’s named after the song chanted in Torah this week. After plagues and terrible fear, the Israelites flee to the sea of Reeds.  They turn to look behind them only to find Pharoah’s army and his best charioteers in hot pursuit, their hearts strengthened by God just for this chase. Miraculously a cloud of darkness stops the pursuers, and all night an east wind blows the water off the sand, you know the story. Egyptians die, we are born into freedom. What would be your first reaction to the release of your fear into freedom? Well, Miriam and Moses lead singing and dancing and playing musical instruments, and the Torah records this raw, emotion rich song. Midrash credits the first man with faith enough to jump into the waves as Nachshon, son of Aminadav (Aaron’s son in law), and says that because of his faith the sea is able to split. My favorite Nachshon song is by R. Joe Black, here’s a taste of the song: When Nachshon cried out from the depths of his soul, the Red Sea Started to Rock and roll! Well it split down the middle like it was shifting gears, and the children of Israel started to cheer!

Last year I had the privilege of singing Peri Smilow’s Nachshon with the Freedom Music Project, which celebrates the Jewish/ African American shared connection to freedom from slavery in music Our synagogue in sang with the fine folks of New Light Baptist Church as we do to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King each year. This year we celebrate Martin Luther King weekend on the same week we read of freedom at the Sea in the Bible: coincidence? I think not! Freedom and Music are natural companions! This year I also part of a huge unity choir singing amazing music, songs of Freedom and peace from both traditions, in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center.

It is  also Tub’shevat on Jan 26th, our celebration of trees. So it got me thinking, how many connections must there be between music and trees? First thing that comes to mind is the whistling of the breeze through the leaves, that beautiful song, with the birdsong as a descant above. I love the movie “August Rush”, and in the beginning, August is conducting a field of grain rustling in the wind, and if you just LISTEN nature sings!

Another of my favorite connections is Benjie Ellen Schiller’s Go Out in Joy (available at a musical rendition of Isaiah 55,

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace,

the mountains and hills shall break forth into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands!

Perhaps this is where Rogers and Hammerstein got their idea for Sound of Music! As Grover (Sesame Street) said: the hills are alive, and it’s very frightening A-a-a-ah!
Still another musical/tree connection, is Reb Nachman’s Prayer, set to song by Debbie Friedman
You are the One, for this I pray, that I may have the strength to be alone, and stand among the trees, and all the living things, ..and I’ll sing my soul to You and give you all that’s in my heart. May all the foliage of the field, all grasses, trees and plants, awaken at my coming this I pray, and send their lives into my words of that my speech, my thoughts and my prayer will be made whole, through the spirit of all growing things…
A cool nickname for Torah is Tree of LIfe, with the image of a Tree reaching with its roots through Time, its fruits being beautiful acts, or perhaps each new child born to perform these acts of loving kindness. Dan NIchols Roots, is my favorite Eitz Chayim Hi
And the roots of that tree reach deep into the ground, cradling the truths our ancestors found, and the tree is connected to every living soul, and that peace is made real when we are made whole: SHALOM!
Trees are in serious trouble in this world, which means that we are too. Perhaps music and tub’shevat can be an way to reach folks, to connect trees to their souls.

I love music, trees and freedom, and they’re all coming together this week.


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