Parashat B'shallach Torah Reading: Exodus 13:17-17:16
Shabbat Shirah/Sabbath of Song
This week's parashah/Torah reading gives us the opportunity to relive one of our people's iconic moments . . . "y'tziyat mitzrayim," the Exodus from Egypt. On a daily basis, our liturgy brings us back to this moment which is the touchstone of God's love for the people of Israel. This is the moment that binds us to God for all time, for the God of Canaan "crossed international borders" in an unprecedented rescue mission to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.
In the blessing we recite over wine every Friday evening, "y'tziyat mitzrayim," the Exodus, is evoked as the definitive example of God's love for Israel along with the gift of Shabbat.
This Shabbat should be a real love-fest. We should be gathered in the synagogue tonight and tomorrow morning, singing our hearts out to the God whose love brought us into existence as a people.
But it's not that easy, is it.
Some of us have a hard time feeling loved by God because of the challenges we are facing on a daily basis: illness, loss, fear. . . .
Some of us have a hard time loving God because we don't have a sense of Who we are meant to love. The imagery describing God in the prayer book and the Torah just don't connect with what goes on in our hearts and minds.
Some of us have a hard time feeling that we are part of a people. Our life experiences, our education, our background have not brought us to a place where we can walk into a synagogue and feel that we are among our own.
So, we have two choices.
We can relax into our disengagement. We can say to ourselves "that kind of passion and enthusiasm for God, for Judaism and for Jews is for others, but it's not for me or my family."
Or we can step into engagement. We can each say "I am not willing to hand Judaism over to others and have others define Judaism for me. This is my tradition, my God, my people. I'm going to figure out how to own it."
One of the most vibrant verses in this week's Torah reading is:
זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי וַאֲרֹמְמֶנְהוּ "ze eili vanveihu, elohei avi v'arommenhu."
"This is my God and I will praise Him, the God of my father and I will raise Him up."
It is the layers of the connection that make this so compelling. The Israelite, redeemed from slavery, spared the drowning waters of the Sea of Reeds, not only feels that this is the personal, redeeming God, but is also the God of collective, inherited experience.
When we come together during this Shabbat Shirah . . . Sabbath of Song (referencing this Song at the Sea sung by the relieved, redeemed Israelites) we have the opportunity to reject disengagement and reach for that which is ours: our personal God who is also the God of our rightful heritage as Jews.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.