April 21, 2022

 

4.22.2022 Weekly Torah Portion

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. 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?

[Now, let’s read the last two sentences using “we”: As we left Egypt, we must have known that our lives were changing forever. But after lifetimes of enslavement, how were we to know what to expect?]

The festival serves as a yearly reminder and guide for how we navigate our ever on-going struggles to surrender our ideas of how things should be and to accept how things are.  It’s an annual recommitment to trust in G!D – which is what the surrender-and-acceptance process requires; an annual opportunity to deepen our sense of faith, our sense of not being alone on the planet.

 

As we come to the conclusion of this year’s festival, I’m reminded of Midrash Shemot Rabbah (19:7) which 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.  Thus, the end of our holiday is a time to celebrate the momentous events that happened at the parting of the Red Sea. The Israelites’ transformative journey from slavery to freedom didn’t occur just by setting foot outside of 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.

The first major obstacle the Israelites 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.   They were stuck, out of options, and their freedom seemed to be ending before it even fully began. They were understandably stricken with fear and a sense of powerlessness.

The intense drama of the parting of the sea obscures a small, but significant detail in the narrative that provides further insight into the unnerving adventure that continuing to move on a journey of transformation often is.

The angel of G!D, who had been going ahead of the Israelite army, now moved and followed behind them; and the pillar of cloud shifted from the front of them and took up a place behind them. And it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel… Exodus 14:19-20

Just before Moses raises his rod and a pathway through the water emerges for the Israelites to move forward, G!D’s presence moves from in front of the Israelites to between them and the Egyptians, so that neither could reach the other.  So this very intentional, protective action must have done much to allay the Israelites’ fears and equip them with enough faith to wait through the night for G!D’s “strong east wind” to turn “the sea into dry ground” (Ex 21). Remember, G!D had specifically directed Moses to encamp there!

G!D’s actions demonstrate that, despite their incapacitating fears, the Israelites were not alone and they were not powerless. By moving from in front of the Israelites to behind, G!D bolstered their sense of separation from a source of great danger and further empowered them to take the next right action.

This is similar to what the Big Book suggests on page 86:

 

Upon awakening, let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives.

 

Pharaoh and the Egyptians provide us with an archetype of our worst parts. Throughout the narrative, their ego-driven approach only focuses on what’s in their self-interest. While the Red Sea eventually serves as a physical separation between the Israelites and the influence of the Egyptians, G!D by stepping in and standing in-between them, showed the Israelites a different way that they can become free.

[Again let’s re-read from above; this time with “I”: Just before something miraculous happens and a pathway through the impossible emerges for me to move forward, G!D’s presence moves from in front of me to between me and a source of great danger – often an inner source – and further empowers me to take the next right action.]

 

The first steps the Israelites took out of Egypt were deep acts of faith, and the additional steps they took to separate themselves from the experience and influence of Egyptian slavery added to that faith. We can relate: being willing to recognize the soul-sucking influences of our worst parts 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.   We can also concur: each step of recovery we are empowered to take both gives us faith to take the next step (no matter how ridiculously hard it seems at the time) and confirms for us the wisdom of such a walk.

May our experiences from this Pesach continue to guide us along the pathways towards Freedom.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

Adam Siegel