Here is the d’var Torah I gave on Friday night at my shul in Farmington Hills, MI.
Picture this: you’re tired, your feet hurt from standing, walking, waiting. You rushed to get all the cooking done, exhaustion begins to take over, the journey is beginning. For some of you, this might sound like I’m talking about last Friday as you rushed to finish up the preparation for Passover. As tradition has it, tonight, the end of the sixth, beginning of the seventh day of Pesach is the time when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. After years of hard labor in Egypt, 6 days of walking, they finally reached the point of transition. A plethora of possibilities are before the Israelites, but this is only the beginning.
Tomorrow we read from Parshat Beshalach, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. This parshah comes on the brink of freedom and the edge of slavery. The Israelites, on their journey, have the ultimate GPS system, a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day. Through these symbols, God is visibly present for the Israelites, to lead them on their journey.
As the Israelites travel, moving farther away from slavery and closer to freedom, they arrive at the Sea of Reeds, their first obstacle of freedom. If they turn around, the Egyptians, who are in hot pursuit, will capture them and they will return to slavery. If they attempt to cross the sea, they might drown. They stand, awaiting transition, paused in a moment of decision. What to do? The Midrash tells us that Nachshon Ben Ami-Nadav takes a risk, he steps into the water, moves forward, and just as the waters’ depths are nearly over his head, the sea parts, and dry land appears for the Israelites to cross.
Seeing this miracle, the Israelites begin to sing, the Song of the Sea, praising God as their strength, their warrior, the ultimate being.
עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה
“The Lord is my strength and song, He has become my salvation.”
What respect and awe the Israelites exhibit to God in this song! They are grateful, amazed, dancing, and singing. And yet, they cross the sea, arrive safely, having seen the Egyptians swallowed up by the waters, and they begin to complain.They want food, water. They want to go back to Egypt, where life wasn’t so hard, where food was easy to come by. Sound familiar? How many of us are waiting anxiously for the end of Passover, for that piece of bread? How many of us complained about the cleaning the preparation?
In Parshat Beshalach, the Israelites experience a continuum of emotions; fear, gratitude, excitement, disappointment, awe, dread, discomfort, and joy. It is a lot to take in for a people so new to freedom. Parshat Beshalach is about finding the balance between these emotions on our journey throughout life.
We stand here, on the brink of our own transition. We’ve cleaned out the chametz, cleaned out the clutter and dirt of our homes. We’ve made it 6 days out on the journey. Passover stands on the balance of rebirth and renewal, will we go back to our old ways, or will we take the leap of Nachshon Ben Ami Nadav? Will we follow the pillar of fire, the light of Torah as we embark on our journey towards Shavuot and Matan Torah? We’ve come far on the journey, 6 days done, we’ve almost made it across the point of no return. Here we stand at the edge of Passover, we’ve done the hard work, how will we emerge?
As Passover comes to an end, as we cross the Sea of Reeds and embrace the freedom that comes with it, may we experience this transition, as not, running way from what was, but running towards what will be. May we be blessed on this journey with foresight. As we enter this Shabbat of transition, may we find ourselves surrounded by the warmth of the pillar of Fire that is Torah, may we be blessed with the strength to follow the sometimes challenging path that leads towards the future.