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

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Words from a hit from the ’60s. Everyone agrees that love is the answer. In fact, I don’t think I can name a person that would disagree. However, where we disagree is what love means and what the object and goal of love might be.

Most of us love somebody(ies). Some of the folks with whom I most vehemently disagree still have people who love them (even me). For some, love runs as deep as the best cheeseburger they ever ate (I love this cheeseburger). Some love power or material things. Still, others love ideas. The universal is that we have to love something/someone beyond ourselves. The goal is to love in a way that pulls people into holiness, for the sake of holiness more than any expectation. It is in this realm of love that miracles happen.

As we stand on the Sea of Reeds’ shore, Israel faces the impenetrable water on one-sided and Pharaoh’s chariots on the other. The people pray, and God opens the waters allowing Israel through. The chariots pursue them. As Israel reaches the far side, the waters come back together, crashing around the soldiers and drowning them.

As Israel reaches the shore, they sing a song of freedom. One verse speaks of loving God, “This is my God, and I will enshrine God; My ancestor’s God, I will exalt God.” (Exodus 15:2). The translation shields a unique take on the text. One reference to God is “El,” the other “Elohim.” One is the intimate love one experiences with a parent or guardian (the singular “El”). The other (“Elohim”) is plural and refers to the vast ways in which every aspect of God touches the universe. Love is particular and universal.

Love is painful. As the Midrash goes, the angels celebrate Israel’s freedom, God cries because his children, the Egyptians, drowned. God loved Egypt, Egypt loved hating, and their hate consumed them. God ached over Egypt’s choice.

Love is hopeful. We know that Torah teaches us that Pharaoh hardened his heart to the point of destruction. Our rabbinic tradition offers a commentary that offers us a new way of understanding Egypt. We find a text in Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer (43:8) arguing that Pharaoh atoned for his transgressions and became the righteous King of Nineveh in the Jonah story. Having transgressed with his hardened heart in Egypt, Pharaoh learned that God’s ways are just, and that one must love life for himself and everyone else. In the Jonah story, when Jonah proclaims that God can’t tolerate how the people of Nineveh abuse each other, the King immediately orders a change in behavior and a period of mourning to atone for their wickedness. Even Pharaoh can turn back to love. The gates for healing and atonement are always open if one can love justice enough.

Love is forgiving and engaging. For the rest of history (until the last 30 plus years), we have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Egypt. One of the largest flourishing Jewish communities existed for centuries in Alexandria, Egypt.

In each case, the symbolism of God and love compel us to make sure our love transcends ourselves and our narrow ideologies or communities. We must extend our celebration of the “other” to a wider spectrum of the world. The catastrophes that happen to people happen when people choose to go astray and ignore each other’s dignity. In each case of Biblical cataclysm, we see people bent on destroying or demeaning others suffer. Haters are victims of their own hate.

When God hates everyone you hate, that cannot be God. When one uses God to hurt, exclude, or demean another, that cannot be God. Love is the highest expression of faith and security one can espouse. If one is whole, one can celebrate the other’s being whole without feeling threatened. It begins with loving yourself enough to share that love with others.

Here is a radical thought, in conversation, tries to help people see past their barriers. Some cannot or will not. So many more, if we are persistent, will grow in spirit – in whatever their tradition – and the world will celebrate. “You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”(John Lennon) As Whitney Houston taught us (though I wish she had learned this in her heart), “The greatest love of all is happening to me. I found the greatest love of all inside of me.” Tzedakah v’ r’fuah – righteousness and healing have to begin with each of us.

Shabbat Shalom.