This Week in Torah

B'Shalach 5775

Exodus 13:17-17:16

Judges 4:4:5:31

Forward - the only way to go.

This week we read of the Hebrews’ miraculous escape from Egyptian bondage.  Of course, they first complain to Moses and Aaron questioning the wisdom of having left Egypt at all.  By the end of our reading they are again grousing, this time about the lack of meat.  In between, God rescues them at the Sea of Reeds; Pharaoh’s army is destroyed after which Moses and Miriam raise their voices and timbrels in victory celebration.    How is it that both preceding and following this great success the less than ecstatic Hebrews were confused, scared and somewhat bewildered?

Pharaoh, a gentleman who was in error but nobody’s fool, predicted it when, after seeing the Hebrews change direction, he says that we would be nevuchim – lost or confounded – in the wilderness. (14:3) He was not wrong.  Just a few verses later, confronted with the sea before them and the Egyptian army coming up behind, Moses orders his people to stand still and wait for God’s deliverance.  God immediately disagrees and tells Moses that it is time for the people to move forward. (14:13-18) 

One way or another, this dilemma is oft repeated in Jewish history.  It is so well known that in the middle ages Maimonides titled his philosophical magnum opus; “Moreh Nevuchim” – Guide to the Perplexed.  It’s intent was to show the confused Jews of his time that our ancient faith could make sense and work in a world now exposed to Aristotelian, western thought.  It succeeded, we became western and remained Jewish.

Little did Pharaoh know that long after the glory of his kingdom was buried in the sands of North Africa there would still be plenty of confounded Jews throughout the world.  Like our emancipated ancestors, we find ourselves halting between nostalgia for the Jewish community of our not so distant past and struggling to find a common path forward.   

In the field of Jewish education we know that, with a limited supplementary program, our congregation cannot impart the Jewish knowledge and skills of the old four or five sessions per week Hebrew School.  We know what we can’t just ‘stand still’ but the path before us is still unclear.  Liturgically, our members frequently pine for the ‘old time’ service but also want a spiritual experience that is new and engages today’s worshipers.  We are blessed with Cantor Richard Lawrence and Education Director, Kate Milgrom – two remarkable professionals who are working with our congregation to help us find our way.    Yet another challenging “sea” before us is the fact that more and more people eschew the idea of ‘membership,’ while earnestly seeking other ways to participate in, connect with and support Jewish life.  This is a wilderness wherein TEE is just beginning its journey.

Although the challenges seem daunting and we are all nevuchim we should, however, take heart in the message of this week’s Torah reading from which we learn that our job is to do our best at moving forward together with unity and commitment.  After which, God will part the sea for us.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Steve Denker