Each week on my blog, of course, we choose a Torah portion, bring you different kinds of stories on that… (I'm a wee bit obsessed with This American Life.)
Okay that’s not all true. It’s not every week (though maybe it should be)... and I don’t really choose a Torah portion. Those are a given. One per week. For a year. Since a long long time ago.
This week is all about the Jews finally getting out of Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and some subsequent desert happenings (mostly involving complaining, woohoo!).
The parshah (as the portions are called) starts off with the words “It came to pass when Pharaoh allowed the people to go…” wha? huh? Every Bible buff worth his Hebrew knows that Pharaoh didn’t “let the people go”. No matter how many times Moses pleaded, threatened, and sang, Pharaoh was like “heeeee-double-hockey-sticks no!”. Until finally, as the scene was rendered immortal in the famous ballad “Pharaoh in pajamas in the middle of the night”, Pharaoh came looking for Moses and begged him to go. “Just take your peeps, and go!”.
Why does the Torah prescribe power to Pharaoh, as if it was him who, from the graciousness of his heart, allowed his slaves to leave?
The Abarbanel (famous Portuguese bible commentator) asks this question. But he also asks 14 others until he gets to the answer…
Egypt, in Hebrew is מצרים, Mitzrayim. It can also be pronounced Meitzarim, which means boundaries, or borders. The concept of leaving Egypt is breaking out of whatever is holding us back. On all levels. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.
Everyone can change the world. Everyone. But for the most part we end up crimping our style with all our blocks and mindsets.
The Jews were slaves for so long, they forgot what power they had. You get up when your master tells you to, you eat when you are told, you sleep, if you get to, when you are told to. Eventually we start doubting our worth, we start to rely on our masters for their prompts, and we feel lost without them. and I am all over the place with tenses here because this has happened, and is happening, and will happen. Unless we don’t let it anymore.
Even after all the plagues and signs. When the Hebrews left Egypt they “had Pharaoh to thank”. Just as they attributed their slavery to Pharaoh, so too their freedom.
They had left Egypt, but Egypt didn’t yet leave them.
Until the splitting of the sea.
G-d doesn’t need fancy footwork. If he wanted the Egyptians gone all he had to do was to stop creating them. The world was just dancing so hard at the news of Exodus that it split it’s sea(m). That was horrible, Zalmy. Never do that again.
But seriously, why the whole split-the-sea-and-have-the-Jews-go-across-and-the-Egyptians-drown show?
Here’s the deal. Everything in this world is a reflection of its spiritual source. The sea is hidden, or more accurately it hides. There is an entire world under its waves, but all we really see is the surface. This is a reflection of the attribute of Kingship, or מלכות, which contains everything, but hides it in order to present, or allow for, a different perception to exist (one where G-d is not apparent). The splitting of the sea, and the Jews walking on the dry land was a reflection of G-d cracking open the door and allowing the Jews to see reality at a much higher level. In fact it says that the most simplest Jew saw a higher revelation at the splitting of the sea, than the prophet Ezekiel ever did.
Until then we saw G-d’s power. His might. But not G-dliness itself.
When the Jews came to the water and saw Pharaoh and his army bearing down at them with their mighty four horsepower chariots, they kind of freaked out. And they started praying.
Praying? Why? Didn’t G-d say he would take them to the promised land? Did they not trust him yet?
No. I mean, kind of. They had faith, but not enough. In their mind G-d was even more powerful than Pharaoh, but Pharaoh was still powerful. The world was still a huge and dangerous place, with hateful and mean people and happenings.
But then they saw G-dliness, they saw the truth, and it changed their lives forever. Because the truth is, there is nothing outside of G-d. The world and all its trappings is a facade, a trick. A necessary perception to allow for free choice, and for us to rise above it.
“Why are you praying to me, keep going!” said G-d. So what if there is a sea in the way?!
This is what finally freed the Jews from Mitzrayim. From limits. From doubts. From fear.
“Stop kvetching! keep rocking!”
We can all change the world. We just have to get over ourselves first.
(Much of this was from the first half of a lecture by Rabbi Mendel Kaplan that I tried to listen to while doing the dishes late last night.)
I was blessed to have photographed (together with the amazing Katie Merkle) the wedding of Matty and Zvi. Too often, especially with weddings, we do what is done, because it's what's done, without really thinking about what it means to us. This wedding was as far from that as possible. Anyways, here a few (ahem) photos from the wedding. Enjoy :)