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Grieving, Growing, and Gaining Momentum

01/29/2021 01:15:49 PM


          Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Beshallach, in which the Israelites go forth from Egypt, from Mitzrayim, the narrow place, into freedom, into the great expanse of the wilderness. Just before Moses uses his miracle staff to part the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites angst over the encroaching Egyptian army and the barrier of the water ahead, certain that they will die. The Lubavitcher Rebbe counts possible reactions to this terrifying moment, to any moment through history and in our personal lives in which we feel trapped or stuck:

“One possible reaction is: “Let us cast ourselves into the sea.” … Let us create our own insular communities, protecting us and ours from the G‑dless world out there.

At the other extreme is the reaction, “Let us return to Egypt.” Let us accept “reality,” recognizing that … it is futile to imagine that we can resist, much less change, the way things are.

A third reaction is to “wage war against them”—to assume a confrontational stance against the hostile reality, battling the “unG‑dly” world despite all odds.

A fourth reaction is to say: It’s wrong to abandon the world, it’s wrong to succumb to it and it’s wrong to violently fight it. The answer lies in dealing with it on a wholly spiritual level. A single prayer can achieve more than the most secure fortress, the most flattering diplomat or the most powerful army.”


The main act of this parasha is the Song of the Sea, when all of the Israelites spontaneously and simultaneously burst into song at their excitement and relief of liberation, gratitude and praise to God. Despite all their fears, anger, and stubbornness, they are willing to be led forward on a path toward something wholly new, and they participate in this prayerful moment with their whole hearts and voices.

I imagine many of us are feeling trapped in narrow confines these days, as we approach the year mark of quarantine. The vaccine roll out has continued slowly, and our country is in a moment of transition where the way forward is still in its first baby steps. Many times in recent weeks, I have felt the need to get to a more expansive wilderness, to sing with my whole heart and voice, but I live in a very busy commercial neighborhood and the walls of my apartment building are not sound proof, so I’m a bit stuck, and left to find other ways to let my spirit fly free.

One of the most important outlets for me has been video calls with groups of friends, including friends I may not see often even if there wasn’t a global pandemic. The general feeling of angst throughout our country, along with the recent ubiquity of Zoom calls has led to reconnecting with old friends, or being in group calls with friends I maybe only talked to individually before. Last week, I zoomed with a group of friends I’ve known for 20 years, including one friend’s mom who was our stage manager in our youth theatre group where we all met. The following day, I used Google Meet to video chat with some friends from college. The power of community support cannot be overstated, and is also on full display in this week’s parasha: after the Israelites cross through the sea on dry land and make it to the free wilderness, they find themselves under attack by the Amalekites. Whenever Moses holds up his arms, the Israelites prevail. When he drops his arms, the Amalekites start to overtake them. So, Aaron and Hur literally hold up his arms for him. It’s a truly beautiful moment of physical support so that Moses can continue to offer the support his miracle staff will lend to the fighting Israelites.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe continues his commentary I mentioned earlier by telling us that there is a time and a place for each of the four responses to a situation in which one’s “divinely ordained mission in life is challenged by the prevalent reality,” which feels like an awfully apt way to describe this past year and indeterminate future. There are times when we do need to retreat from the world, from our fears, from the difficulties of the profane acts of life, in order to recharge ourselves. There are times when we may need to roll with the punches and work with the broken systems we are given, go along to get along, or we might drive ourselves crazy with the impossibility of changing reality completely or immediately. There are times when resistance is necessary to fight against injustice, to defend ourselves. But all of these are best done with a song and a prayer. With forward motion. With faith and intention. “And when you move forward,” says the Rebbe, “you will see that insurmountable barrier yield and that ominous threat fade away. You will see that the prevalent “reality” is not so real after all, and that you have it within your power to reach your goal. Even if you have to split some seas to get there.”

May your seas split, may your song carry you froward, may your arms be held aloft by friends and family who love you, and may we soon all find ourselves free of the narrow spaces. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.


Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782