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

I have to wonder what it would be like to stand on the shore of the sea and have it split open wide before me. To watch the fish come to the brink of the water, and as if hitting the side of the aquarium tank … they abruptly turn and change course. Imagine the ground, dry to the foot, despite having been covered with water for the many millennia. We know the text that tells us of Israel going into the sea, up to their noses, on dry ground. We scratch our heads and wonder how this might have come to be. It’s all nice, but something is missing.

According to the text, Moses is praying to God. The people are whining before Moses. Pharaoh is trying to get past God and attack Moses. The Midrash tells of a guy named Nachshon who, in an act of blind faith, dives in causing the waters to part. It’s all nice, but something is missing.

I play this tape over and over in my head. Every worship service tells this story, as we read Mi Chamocha (liturgy that includes this Biblical story) and remind ourselves of the miracle at the sea. The prayer concludes with the phrase “Tzur Yisrael … Rock of all who are faithful.” What a testament to faith! It’s all nice, but something is missing.

So, last week I was in Israel, and I was traveling the hot spots in the country. Standing at the Gaza border, we spoke with a resident of the Kibbutz Nativ Haasarah. This kibbutz used to be located in the Sinai, but when Israel and Egypt made peace, Israel ceded the Sinai back to Egypt and the Kibbutz could either become Egyptian or could move to within Israel’s borders. It chose to move, and the parents of the man we were with relocated with the other kibbutz families. They made one request that was for security that they were safely within the borders and not have to face the threat of relocation again.

The kibbutz was named in memory of “the ten” (haasarah) who died in a helicopter crash in the 1967 War. So, standing on the shore (the border) of a kibbutz that formed in memory of the soldiers who fell for the cause of freedom, which itself had to be relocated in the cause of freedom, now on the border of Gaza, worried about its freedom. I sensed a theme developing.

I had to wonder why these folks tolerated daily (sometimes hourly) shelling from Gaza. This was a very familiar discomfort, as I used to get all worked up over the pioneers who moved west.Despite the fear of being ambushed, people overcame their fear. They settled the west despite their fears … or maybe even in spite of their fear, because there was something more valuable at stake.

We now know that a tunnel was dug from Gaza City to the hot houses of the Kibbutz. I am brave, but this goes beyond bravery. This is insanity, and yet, my world experience is very different than that of the folks here. I have never had to fight for the very basic freedom to live. I have nothing invested in my freedoms, beyond the lessons taught me by generations a little closer in time to the wars that were waged to gain, ensure, and protect the freedoms that I take for granted.

The man we were speaking with lived in fear, but he was not going to abandon his family’s dream of living freely in Israel. This was a powerful epiphany for me, as I think about the people over here who attack our government … who only have the right to attack our government because we jealously guard and protect the rights of each individual. I love the tax evasion movement who argue that the income tax violates the 16th Amendment to our Constitution. I remarked to one of the movement leaders that if everyone joined his movement … if he was right, then the country that gives him the right to protest would fail and he would be taxed even more by the chaos that followed. We take so much for granted.

Israel stands at the shores of the sea. They are faced with the very real fear of Pharaoh’s attack. They looked to the water and feared drowning. Two million slaves with nothing to live for gave up. All Moses did was scream at God to do something. Whether it was Nachshon as the midrash teaches, or whomever it was, our tradition is clear that someone who was also very afraid, had the courage to stick his/her toe in the water … and it opened wide. You know, we are all afraid, but some of us live past our fear and do amazing things, anyway. Who is Nachshon? Each of us has the capacity to change the world. Most of us take the important things in the world for granted … until we lose them. I wonder how different the world would be if each of us could stand in front of the water with the understanding that it was within our power to part the sea. That is what is missing. Shabbat Shalom.