Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-B’shalach

“Aeli, Aeli … My God, My God, May these things never end: The sand and the sea; the rustle of the water; the lightning in the sky; and each human prayer.” This is a most wonderful piece written by a heroic Hannah Senesh. Senesh volunteered to paratroop behind axis lines to facilitate freeing Jews from the Shoah, German soldiers discovered her and executed her in 1944. Amidst the ugliness of the war, she found miracles through which to seek redemption.
I have to believe that Hannah was thinking of the events of this week’s Torah portion as she hoped for the nightmare of NAZI Germany to be over and for goodness to prevail. Her dream sort of came true, even though she did not live to see it happen. Staring in the face of a Hitler led regime that shunned hope for any other than his master nation/race, Hannah spoke the words that ultimately address the hope for a Messianic Age. The sands and the seas, in their purity are symbolic of the beauty of nature. Still, though, battleships use the seas to transport weapons aimed in order to destroy civilizations. 

I walk on the sea shore and let the sand pass between my toes, and yet, the shores of this world’s seas have borne witness to many of the bloodiest battles in history. The glistening sand turned red; stained with the blood of young people whose future ended with the flash of a gun, the blast of an artillery shell, or the light refracting blade of a bayonet. The lightning over the horizon that provides the most beautiful of nighttime light shows became the symbol of the Schutzstaffel (THE NAZI SS); the highly trained echelon of storm troopers who destroyed families, homes, villages and nations. All of these symbols of the most beautiful aspects of nature were compromised by people wanting to lord themselves over other people. The things we thought most beautiful turned against us.

The one beautiful aspect of life that could never be compromised is our prayer. Each of us, whatever befalls us, still controls the rush and stillness in our souls. Prayer has nothing to do with the ritual or practice of religion, and while “religion” has always been manipulated for the sake of political power, what happens inside each one of us is sacred. It is this ability to pray that affords us the strength and courage to overcome the most horrific of obstacles, as we journey, at least spiritually into freedom. It is the power of prayer that allows us to survive; that pushes us to make our survival meaningful. It is the power of prayer that makes power mongers afraid, because it is the power of prayer that leads us to join with others who also yearn for freedom and peace, to make our prayer come true. Against all odds, it is prayer that changes the course of history, that overthrows oppression, and that lights the path to freedom.

Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us that prayer has to undercut the status quo, opening our soul’s eyes to a better answer than what our human eyes have yet seen. This is not the prayer of a ritual service, unless one gets lost in praying, moving more deeply into one’s own spirit than any words on a prayer book or songs in a hymnal can reach. When we pray, we reach past words and yoke the power of creation and restoration. As we emerge from this prayer, we bring this empowerment forward, and we find ourselves once again able to assert, “In the beginning, God created light.”

Prayer was foundational in the American movement for Civil Rights. It remains foundational as we struggle to move the spirit that demanded legal change into our hearts motivating moral change. We have new laws, but not new hearts. We have protected classes, but alienated people. Were this a first in history, our failures would be devastating, but we know that time and again, groups calling themselves the elite before God have tried to rid the world of all others and in each case they failed.

This week, we read one of the oldest stories of spiritual and moral redemption. Freed from slavery in Egypt, Israel marches forth. Pursued by the oppressors to the shores of the sea, it was not the power of Moses’ verbal prayer that opened the sea. Rather, it was the leap of faith that Israel took … into the shore waters, that made them part. Miracles happen because we pray, not because we recite prayers. In prayer, we restore nature’s beauty. In prayer, we end our own captivity. In prayer, we rebuild our communities and our world.

Pray this week, that we restore beauty to ways in which we converse. Pray that we find ourselves able to look into each other’s eyes, and seeing God stare back, that we learn to embrace … even those we do not understand. We were strangers in the land of Egypt. We know the plight of strangers. Pray this week to rid ourselves of the barriers that keep us estranged from one another. As our hearts open; as our soul’s eyes take focus, the waters that held us back will part, opening our path back to each other. The shore that stood threatened to be again stained with the blood of slaughtered nations will continue to glisten and invite us to shore in its warmth. The lightning will return to the heavens and reign in the skies. On that day, that we find our prayer for restoration fulfilled, we will all come to know the oneness of our creation and the love with which we are formed. Shabbat Shalom.