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Home » 3 Faiths Together


15 April 2019 No Comment

Rabbi Michael Whitman


The Exodus from Egypt, which Jews celebrate on Passover beginning this Friday night, April 19, is an event that creates our identity as Jews. It is also an event that provides inspiration and meaning for everyone, in every generation struggling under oppression. Its significance applies equally to nations, peoples, and individuals. Here is a message each of us can use in our own lives.

Shortly after leaving Egypt, and thinking they were finally safe and free, the Jewish People see Pharaoh’s mighty army coming after them. With the Red Sea blocking their escape, they were deeply afraid, and they cried out to God. Because at this moment, there was no way out, no solution, no future. The magnificent exodus from Egypt was for nothing. But God told them, “Why are you crying to Me? Jump into the water and you will be saved!” The classic Jewish commentator Rashi explains God’s message that all they had to do was jump in the water. The water, in fact, was not a barrier, but an opening.

But everyone was understandably afraid. And one man, Nachshon son of Aminadav, jumped in, the waters parted, the Jewish People marched on into freedom, and Pharaoh’s army was destroyed.

We know the story, which we read and celebrate on the seventh day of Pesach. But Nachshon did not know the story. No one at that time imagined such a thing could ever occur.

Rebbitzen Yemimah Mizrachi explains the deeper significance of this event for us, in our lives. All of a sudden, something started happening that no one could believe was happening. It’s splitting, the sea is splitting! Picture yourself there. It’s possible, it’s happening. You take a step, and another step until you finally exit on the other side of the sea. And meanwhile, you leave behind all the sorrow and trouble and enemies. Imagine yourself passing through, not believing what you see. You walk between those transparent walls of water, finding your own path to freedom.

The lesson, explains Rebbitzen Mizrachi, is everyone needs a Splitting of the Sea; in livelihood, in health, in marriage, in private and in national affairs. We must believe it is possible to change and to be changed. It is possible to exit from the other side of the sea.

But as you imagine yourself standing at the edge of the sea, just before the euphoria of its splitting, just before you discover we can find our path to freedom and well-being – just before that – imagine the fear. Imagine what it feels like to hear God say: There is no sea, there is no obstacle – if you jump in!

Would you jump? Because that is the only way to get to the other side – to be willing to do something that is so frightening, so paralyzing, that you must overcome. Because that is the only way you will make it.

Here is a prosaic story, from Sarah Tuttle-Singer. I share it as a metaphor to relate to the experience of the Splitting of the Sea, and the lesson we can all take from it.

Sarah writes (slightly edited from the original Facebook post): “22 years ago something bad happened to me in a pool, and ever since then, the smell of chlorine literally makes my heart race. It’s my greatest fear in life, the fear of swimming. I would watch my kids splash around in the pool like seals, trusting the water and their bodies, while I would sit near the edge with my heart in my throat. I couldn’t go in. But last night at the American Colony Hotel, and the moon was a lemon wedge, and ‘my issues’ and I sat outside as moonlight rippled off the edge of this gorgeous pool, and the entire world smelled like orange blossoms, and with zero reservations, and with all my clothes on, I dove in. My heart exploded in my chest, and I could hear every thump of breath ringing in my ears. And it was the best. I lay on my back and floated and a heavy piece of me broke off and floated far away. In my entire life, this was one of the hardest things I have ever done – to choose a new way of being in the world over fear; to change my state of being from someone who was afraid to swim to someone who just gets up and dives in. And I made this decision in exactly the right place and time and the waters were perfect and sweet. When we left Egypt and came to the Red Sea, we had to dive in first – in perfect fear, in perfect love, and in perfect trust – before it could split for us, and we could walk across not just safely but to the Promised Land.”

There are moments in the life of every one of us, when we are confronted by our greatest fear, and we are paralyzed by that fear. Often, we are unable to jump in, and we remain stuck. But sometimes we can summon our inner Nachshon (our inner Sarah) – and jump.

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