This week’s tragic event with the loss of 24 soldiers during a building collapse in Gaza caused by Hamas, made me feel like things are just getting worse. Is redemption/salvation, freedom, release nearby?
Our weekly torah portion, Beshalach is the portion of Gehula which is read during the Jewish month of Shvat. B’shalach teaches us that redemption comes in little steps, so small that sometimes they are not even noticeable.
In the center of this week’s Torah portion there is a song, The song of the sea. The Gematria of the word song (Shira) in Hebrew is: 515 and this is the exact number of prayers Moses implored to G-D so that he would be granted entering to the promised land. Our Sages reveal to us that if only Moses would have prayed one more prayer, his plea would have been accepted and he would have been able to enter Israel. What does this mean? Singing is not enough to be redeemed? Was there one more song to be sung?
There is a second song, much shorter, that appears right after Shirat Hayam.
The two songs in fact serve different functions. Shirat Hayam containing 18 verses is a record of events from when the Israelites had full faith in God and trust in Moses as their leader. The second song is Miriam’s song, it appears in just one verse, and it serves more like a prayer.
Shirat Hayam begins with: Az yashir Moshe — then Moses will sing. Miriam’s song is written in the present tense, in the plural imperative: Shiru ladonai, sing to God now.
The Gemara (collection of rabbinical commentaries) discusses the ways the Israelites sing: Moses alone? together? Did they just repeat after Moses?
Rabbi Akiva thought that Moses started the first line of the song, and that we invented the words that followed. What a beautiful notion: the power of singing together, creating in motion as a group, saying the words in melody as we are walking, not running, understanding that G-D is letting us see again His super power by revealing to us the earth where there should be water and even, as the Midrash tells us, providing us with fruit trees on the way, making this truly a land above water, elevating us! Yes, we are crossing a dangerous path with two columns of water that can collapse any minute and drown us all and yet we are not running and screaming in fear and despair, we are Singing a song, expressing our faith for redemption after so much pain and suffering. Singing a song of gratitude after overcoming so many challenges and still more to come.
The act of singing is the act of practicing free will, the choice between living in gratitude or not. If we fill our hearts with sadness, then we can’t say we lost anything since there was nothing to lose. When we fill our hearts with happiness even in hard times, then we have a lot to lose and we must continue working on keeping it alive.
Shirat Ayana appears on the Torah as a pattern of stiches, stitches that are sometimes above the skin and sometimes beneath it… hidden. We carry our wounds and scars. The ones that are buried under our skin will be there as a reminder of our past even if it was painful, and the ones on top should remind us how we survived, how we were able to fix it.
Shirat Ayam was sung by Moses and after they crossed the sea Miriam gathered everyone to sing: Shiru La-Adonai, all together. This was that one extra prayer that all of them needed to do, and the secret word is: together. With that connecting letter Vav that stiches us together. Only united we will merit G-D’s intervention for redemption.
We remember how, In the beginning of our exodus G-D promised us: I will redeem you with a strong hand: Beyad Hazaka and with an outstretched arm: Bizroah Netuya.
This concept of “a strong hand versus a bent arm” appears again and again. Dr Rot from Israel puts a psychoanalytic view of the strength of the human soul in crisis situations. She explains that in times of crisis, the mind needs to be especially strong. But the strong hand of the soul is not like that of the body. In the human mind, strength is measured precisely by the ability to bend the arm, in the sense of the flexibility of the movement, directing it to another place. She continues to say that the mind can be creative when we fall into existential situations.
The expression “the hand is still tilted” means – it is not over yet!
These days are days of loss, days of crisis, days of war, but the decree of fate has not yet ended, we have the ability to create at this time – The ’tilted hand’ has a quality of movement, of change, compared to the strong hand which indicates the application of intense and absolute power, which in a short time may be useful, but in continuous processes it may get very weak.
In the place where the floor opens beneath us, when we are required to cross the Red Sea within ourselves, to move from a familiar and known situation, even if it involves slavery, to a new situation, there is the potential of growth and change even if that change may take many years to bear fruit.
There is a story about Honi HaMe’agel (Honi the Circle-drawer) a Jewish scholar of the 1st-century, who was considered to be a miracle worker, who fell asleep for 70 years before awaking to find a changed world.
One day Honi was journeying on the road when he saw a man planting a carob tree.
He asked, “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?”
The man replied: “Seventy years.”
Honi then further asked him: “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I found grown carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me, so I too plant these for my children.”
Honi sat down and sleep overcame him. He slept for seventy years. When he woke up, he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and Honi asked him, “Are you the man who planted the tree?” The man replied: “I am his grandson.”
The International Holocaust Memorial Day is this Saturday. It was 79 years ago, and yet if feels as if we just woke up to that same acts of hate and antisemitism we are experiencing today, but there is one big difference that we can’t forget: We wake up to a world with a new reality called the state Israel, our Jewish State where we planted and are still planting many trees for the generations to come.
Today for Tu B’shvat it is a great opportunity to do just that, to create, to plant the seeds for our future, the way we want to see it, for us and for the generations to come for a full and complete day of Gehula! And let us sing: Amen!!!
Beth Moshe Congregation is filled with generations of South Florida families with roots and traditional values.