Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Parashat Beshallach: Sink or Swim

By Franny Silverman and Naomi Less
Verse Per Verse

How many times in your life have you simply wanted to -- STOP --? Come on everyone has the lottery fantasy, (even those of us who never play).

“First I would quit my job.” (Stop) “I would buy a house for my parents” (So they could Stop.) “Of course I would donate a ton of money, start a foundation…” (Of course) “And, I don’t know…maybe buy a place on an island and just…” (Stop.)

Familiar? I am an optimistic, joyful person and I know that I live a very fulfilling life. I also know that it is sometimes at the peak of joy or success when fear can inject its poison into a person’s consciousness creating another challenge to overcome. And sometimes, just before the moment of accepting the challenge, before even the bravest among us choose faith over fear, there comes a moment of “STOP!!!! Can’t it all just stop?! The planning, the email, the phone, the deadlines, the meetings, the buzz, the traffic, the rain, the expectations, the desire…STOP!”

And then we (I) take a deep breath. And vow (again) to start meditating on a regular basis. (To create time for STOP in my life) and KEEP ON TRUCKIN.

It is here at this moment of “STOP!!!!!!” that we find the Children of Israel. This is in the beginning of Beshallach, after the leisurely tour that God takes them on of the surrounding area and before the actual crossing of the Sea of Reeds, before the tinkling of Miriam’s timbrels and the Mi’Kamocha, before all of that, the Children of Israel stood en masse at the bank of the sea with all water ahead of them and all of Pharaoh’s army behind them.

וּפַרְעֹה, הִקְרִיב; וַיִּשְׂאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-עֵינֵיהֶם וְהִנֵּה מִצְרַיִם נֹסֵעַ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וַיִּירְאוּ מְאֹד, וַיִּצְעֲקוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶל-יְהוָה.

As Pharaoh came close, the Israelites looked up. They saw the Egyptians marching at their rear, and the people became very frightened.

The Israelites cried out to God.

– Exodus 14:10, The Living Torah, Kaplan

And what did they יִּצְעֲקוּ/scream or cry out?

וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין-קְבָרִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, לְקַחְתָּנוּ לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר: מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לָּנוּ, לְהוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם.

הֲלֹא-זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְנוּ אֵלֶיךָ בְמִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, חֲדַל מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנַעַבְדָה אֶת-מִצְרָיִם: כִּי טוֹב לָנוּ עֲבֹד אֶת-מִצְרַיִם, מִמֻּתֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר.

They said to Moses, “Weren't there enough graves in Egypt? Why did you have to bring us out here to die in the desert? How could you do such a thing to us, bringing us out of Egypt?

Didn't we tell you in Egypt to leave us alone and let us work for the Egyptians? It would have been better to be slaves in Egypt than to die [here] in the desert!”

– Exodus 14:11-12, The Living Torah, Kaplan

Sarcasm. “Not enough plots in Egypt, you [Moses] had to bring us out here to die?!”

Not STOP verbatim, but certainly not anything forward-moving.

So what happens next?

How do the Israelites continue on their journey after a GPS-free funhouse trek led by God forward and backward and around again only to be STUCK between a rock and a hard place. Panic sets in (and they had no Xanax). So?

My favorite version goes like this. The fearless (?) leader, Moses begins to daven. Fervently shuckling back and forth and on his knees, “What to do? What to do?”

And as the people are fighting, praying, crying, frozen, fearful, STOPPED, one from among them emerges: Nachshon.

He springs forward into the sea, flailing, up to his nose in H2O. And between desperate gulps of air and water, he cries:

“Save me, O God, for the water comes into my soul. I am sinking deep into the muck where there is no standing.”

This action of bravery, and the accompanying cry, breaks Moses from his prayers, his arms flying up and as they raise, the sea splits and the muck hardens and Nachshon and Moses lead the people across the threshold of fear to faith and ultimately, to freedom.

Indira Ghandi, former Prime Minister of India said, “You must be still in the midst of activity, and be vibrantly alive in repose.”

Nachshon, was alive and ready to move forward when the whole of the People of Israel were paralyzed by circumstance and fear.

In these unsteady times, when our faith is challenged and the ground we stand on seems shaky, we must gather up courage to move forward, empowered by the stories of our past. Maybe we learn the lesson that the ground has NEVER been steady to begin with – but we have faith in the process. Onwards…

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