Saturday, February 11, 2017

Small Victories and Freedoms: Parshat BeShallach

This parsha is a famous one. We cross the Red Sea and rejoice that God has brought us out of Egypt and drowned the Egyptians with their horses who were pursuing us. But I want to pull three things out of this very famous portion that is only really known in broad strokes around Passover: carrying those who have passed away with us, God's guidance, and joy.

At the beginning of the portion, when the Israelites are preparing to leave Egypt, Moses takes Joseph's bones out of the ground so that Joseph can leave Egypt with his people as it was meant to be from the oath that he swore. And we can take our ancestors and those we have lost with us as well. There's a quote, from Harry Potter, of course, that says that the "ones who love us never really leave us, you can always find them," so whether you believe that those we have loved and lost are looking down on us from some sort of afterlife or if they are held in our hearts and in our actions and in the love that we give others, as Moses took Joseph's bones, the core essence of him, with the Israelites as they left slavery, we can take those people with us as we march, as we love, and as we live our every day lives.

Second, in a world that seems a little bit messy (okay, maybe a little is a tad bit of an understatement),  it's hard to think about God guiding us in a simple way as God does in this parsha. God "goes before" them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, so that the Israelites never lose their way in the wilderness. There doesn't seem to be so much of a guiding cloud or light at this moment, so I think we have to find that guidance in ourselves, in our prayers, in our friends, our mentors. I know that for me, many of the people I look up to have been my guiding pillars: they have shown me that it is possible to go the way that I want to go coming from the place I was afraid would close that door. So maybe God is showing Godself by guiding us, we just aren't looking for it in the right place. In my opinion, we should be looking for God in each other because after all, aren't we all made in the image of God?

A few weeks ago, a few days before the inauguration of our 45th president, I watched a video that was entitled Joy is a form of Protest, made by a lovely Youtuber who was struggling, as many of us are, to figure out how to take care of ourselves in this new world, and this parsha, especially the Song of the Sea, Shirat HaYam, reminded me of this idea of joy. Joy seems pretty hard to find these days. Turn on any news network, open any social media feed, it's all bad news, but I think we need to start looking for the joy, looking for the small Yitziot Mitzrayim, exoduses from Egypt. Celebrating the small victories like finishing a paper or helping a friend with a problem or getting to spend Shabbat free of all the bad news and just celebrating with those around us. I don't know if we are going to get an Exodus on the scale of the Torah anytime soon, all I know is that we have to try to find some joy while we fight for freedom.

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