February 6, 2020


2.7.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

There’s a disturbance over the waters – a wind.  Something is about to happen, to change.  Something big.  The birth of a Universe from tohu vavohu, from utter chaos (Bereshit 1:1).  This is how Bereshit, how the whole Torah begins – all of the world, humanity, your life, my life.

And in this week’s parashah, the Israelites stand before the Red Sea, Egyptians pursuing them, certain of their death; they feel stuck – so stuck that they cry out: “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us out to die in the wilderness?” (Exodus 14:1).

And then comes a wind that disturbs the waters.  Something is about to happen, to change.  Something big. The winds make walls of the waters and there’s a dry path for the people to walk through the split sea.  The birth of a free people from an enslaved people.  This is a beginning of the journey out of slavery to freedom.  This is how the Jewish people are created.

Our creations, both of the Universe and of the Jewish people, begin with a wind – a disturbance – that upsets the status quo and changes the world as it was.  At first an easy wind, and then something more severe – dramatic winds that separate one thing from another.  In Creation: light from darkness, the heavens from the earth, dry land from water.  In the Exodus: one wall of water from another, slavery from freedom.

At first these separations, these partings, feel like confusion and chaos.  I’m tempted to resist them or hide from them – after all, change is hard and may require responsibility I may not want to accept.  But if I can see beyond the disturbance itself, to the act of creation, to the shore beyond, to the very dirt, the way forward, that was hidden under the water all along, then what felt like confusion becomes relief.  I know this moment is not an ending alone.  It’s also a beginning.

It’s the moment of walking through the doors of Beit T’Shuvah for the first time.  That moment of being fully seen and loved for the first time as you are.  That feeling of understanding your age-old sadness and knowing it no longer has to run your life.  It is the separation of the old destructive cycles of behavior from the soul itself.  It is freedom.

The Israelites must part from their slave mentality of worthlessness in order to step forward into the sea, in order to walk into freedom.  God must part from God’s own wholeness in order to create the world.  Freedom requires separating oneself from old patterns, shaking off what Rabbi Steinsaltz calls “the ordinary limits of the self.”

So when I feel this wrenching, when I feel a sea parting within me, the question is: Will I choose to see it as an ending alone?  Will I choose to hide from it and resist it?  Or will I also see it as the beginning of freedom?