April 1, 2021

 

4.2.2021 Weekly Torah Portion

For the past few weeks, I couldn’t help but note the various “anniversaries” of tumultuous experiences which happened during the early onset of the pandemic.  As February rolled into March, I was reminded of the last time I “ate out” or who was the last out-of-town guest we hosted.  I was also startled by memories of the collective fear that started to brew as our world seemingly became a lot smaller.  Fortunately, there seems to be small, but significant signs of our re-emergence from the constraints of pandemic life.

Despite the significant personal and societal losses that have resulted over the past twelve months, the pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to re-orient our relationships with ourselves, with our families and friends, and with G!D.  For me, it has been an opportunity to sort my priorities.  As the days of uncertainty unfolded, I struggled to surrender my idea of how things should be and to accept how things were.  I found that recommitting to trust G!D – which is what the surrender-and-acceptance process requires – deepened my sense of faith, of not being alone on the planet.  It has also been incredibly helpful to be connected to a community – especially one that exists at the intersection of Recovery and Jewish Living.  Finally, I’m grateful to have a tradition that offers a framework – that has, in a way, been there, done that, and documented the process in depth – that informs and guides me through this complicated time.  The celebration of Passover offers each of us enduring wisdom, insight into the process of emerging from constraint – in all the forms that it takes – into greater freedom and its responsibility.

Ah, Passover!  In the weeks leading up to the holiday, we spend an enormous amount of energy (and anxiety) on all of the various preparations.  Understandably, our focus is drawn to the beginning of the festival and its accompanying seders.  However, even before the Israelites left Egypt, they were commanded to mark their exodus with a week-long festival.  Thus, from its origins, the exodus experience was understood to be a process, rather than a singular event.  After ordaining the first day of Passover as a holy day, the Torah goes on to command “…and in the seventh day a holy convocation; no manner of work shall be done…” (Exodus 12:16).  And it is interesting to note that there is no explanation given for the holiness of the seventh day; it lacks any specific designation or ritual.

Midrash Shemot Rabbah (19:7) explains that although the Jews left Egypt on the first day of Passover, they were pursued by the Egyptians until the parting of the Red Sea, which occurred seven days later.  Their transformative journey from slavery to freedom didn’t occur by just leaving Egypt, it happened in stages, with their experience at the Red Sea – and G!D’s unrestrained deliverance – as a continuation, another step of the process.

As they left Egypt, the Israelites must have known that their lives were changing forever.  But after lifetimes of enslavement, how were they to know what to expect?  The first major obstacle they encountered as non-slaves was at the Red Sea.  Ahead of them was a seemingly impassable body of water, and behind them was Pharaoh and the horses and chariots of the Egyptian army.  The Israelites were stuck, out of options, and their freedom seemed to be ending before it had even fully begun.  Understandably, their fear overtook them, and they lashed out at Moses.  But Moses’ response bolstered the Israelites’ faith, and a merciful G!D caused a path for their escape to miraculously emerge.  There is a small, but significant detail in the narrative: after the sea parts, but before the Israelites start marching, G!D moves from in front of the Israelites to between them and the Egyptians so that neither could reach the other.  I imagine this very intentional, protective action strengthened the Israelites’ understanding that G!D was indeed there, among them.  Sometimes all it takes for us to keep moving forward is to be aware that we are not alone.

Stepping out of the confines of unhealthy oppressive situations – whether it be an addiction, a toxic relationship, or any other soul-sucking scenario – takes a tremendous amount of courage and faith.  Often it takes all we have just to take those first few steps, or at least to be willing to let others push/pull/cause a path for our escape out of the stuck-ness of such a confinement.   The first steps the Israelites took out of Egypt were deep acts of faith, and the steps they took to walk cross the bed of the Red Sea both drew from and added to that faith.  Now, we know from reading the Torah’s stories of faith (as well as from living our own) that faith develops only as we face obstacles, successes, and failures.   Fortunately, neither they nor we must do it alone.  The Israelites had each other, strong leadership, and relationship with G!D to nurture the process.  We also: community is all around us, and G!D still calls us to relationship.  The good news is that as long as there is life, and G!D is in it, there will be a path forward.

When we study the entirety of the Passover story, it becomes clear that liberation may be experienced as a series of liberations rather than single, unique moment.  And that’s helpful to keep in mind: as we begin to shrug out of our pandemic-imposed constraints, we will need to remember that there will be no “finish-line” to this experience.  Unanticipated obstacles will inherently be part of the process (or certainly, continue to be part of the process).  Our task – much like the Israelites’ – is to march forward, and when necessary, to draw assurance from our partnership – our faith in a Power Greater than Ourselves – that we will continue to be provided the pathway to freedom that we so deeply crave.