This past summer, my husband and I made the trek driving from Los Angeles to Dallas in preparation for my work here at Levine Academy. We got in the car early Monday morning with our TripTik in hand, counting down the maps and miles. The drive east out of California was beautiful: the magnificent scenery of the desert, the grandeur of the mountains, until we reached . . . boredom. Then I think back to the fifth grade trip I took earlier this school year to Sky Ranch. In comparison, that drive was only about 2 hours, but 20 minutes in I heard the all-too-familiar question, “Are we there yet?”
It is only natural when we’re on a journey, whether or not the destination is determined, to want to know when the next rest stop or the end point is coming. This week’s Torah portion, parshat Beshalach, finds us at the beginning of a journey which will last 40 years for the Israelites as they travel away from Egypt. Of course even when walking, the entire trip does not need 40 years, but God, as the driver, makes a few executive decisions. After all, it is important on a road trip to carefully map out your rest stops, tourist attractions, and any construction along the way. God knew the passengers well and how easily they were scared, so perhaps taking short cuts through the warring lands was not in their best interest. Instead, God the navigator decides to take the long way. While not as direct, God hoped this path would lead the Israelites to strengthen themselves individually and as a community along the way.
But like all groups of travelers whose trips seem to drag on forever when the scenery is boring or when construction adds an hour or two, the Israelites complain over and over and over again. The whiny, bored chant of “Are we there yet?” begins to weave its way through the Israelite nation. The people left Egypt where they had food, water, shelter, and work to journey in the wilderness without any clue as to what would happen next. They haven’t yet felt the freedom of the wilderness or experienced the manna, the dew-like, magical food from God. The people are terrified and fragile, and they complain incessantly throughout this journey.
Then suddenly in chapter 15, as the Israelites are in the throes of one of their kvetching rants and wishing to go back, God surprises them. God parts the sea and the people move through to safety. And for the first time in their existence since Egypt, the first time for them as a whole, they see the miracle of God, they see the sea split and their lives saved. In this moment, the whining, the nervous frustration, and the fear seem to melt away as they sing “Ozi V’zimrat Ya, Vayehi Li Lishuah.” Adonai is my strength and my song, He will be for me deliverance.
While this is only a momentary pause for celebration in the Israelites’ arduous journey, the change from “are we there yet” to a song of praise is rather refreshing. Like the Israelites, we often get caught up in asking, “are we there yet.” We’re easily pulled into the mentality of needing to know and not able to recognize the moments of strength, beauty, and good in our world. When we go on our individual journeys, we may not see the sea split per se, but we have the ability and even the obligation to call out in song, and just for one moment allow the “are we there yet” to be “wow, I’m here.”
Family Discussion Questions:
- Our ‘ethical covenant’ reminds us that we have an obligation towards creating holiness in our world. As a family, how can you remember to stop and say “I’m Here”? what effect to you think this act might have on our society?
- The Israelites called out Ozi V’zimrat Ya, what is your song?