Parshat B’Shalach

Torah Reading for Week of January 24 – 30, 2010

“Links in a Chain”

by Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, PhD
President, AJRCA

The great theme of today’s Torah portion is the Song at the Red Sea which Moshe and the people of Israel sang in gratefulness to G-d for the final and complete miraculous deliverance from the threat of the Egyptian enemy. Great religious truths come to expression in this Song of the Red Sea, among which is the verse, ‘This is my G-d and I will glorify Him, the G-d of my ancestors and I will exalt Him.” (Exodus, 15:2). The comment of Rashi touches a most profound insight. Rashi comments, “He is not merely my G-d, but He was my ancestors G-d as well. I am not the beginning of the sanctity, not the first to hallow G-d, by proclaiming Him G-d; this hallowing of G-d and the proclamation of His Lordship over me is something that has been held by me and has remained mine since the days of my ancestors.”

Religion is basically a personal experience; the depths of its truths must strike deep in one’s own character. It is you and I, as individuals, that must feel the closeness of its universal truths. As Israel at the Red Sea so truly expressed it, “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him.” The truth of the principle is repeated in countless prayers, which we begin with the phrase: “Elokeynu……”

At the same time it is a basic requirement in Jewish religious thought to realize that “I do not constitute the beginning of that sanctity,” as Rashi points out. My ancestors, through thousands of years of Jewish history, have taught and lived the same religion, thus making “my G-d” to be “my ancestor’s G-d.” In brief, we are not the beginning of the sanctity; we are but a link in a long chain of immortal teachers, Sages and Rabbis, prophets and poets, who have all hallowed and proclaimed the Name of G-d since the dawn of history.

It is said that the founder of Chassidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov, offered the following explanation of why we say in the prayers, “Elokeynu Veylokei Avoteinu.” (Our G-d and the G-d of our ancestors). We gain a love of the Torah, he said, through two ways: through our own personal studies and experiences, and through the traditions that have come down to us from our ancestors. Both are necessary to make the kind of faith, which is deep and unfaltering.

To those of us at the Academy for Jewish Religion, Ca. these words are of great significance. We dedicate ourselves to a full understanding of the past, while utilizing our creativity to expand the unique voices of our tradition. We realize that we do not form the beginning of the sanctity, but we are links in a chain that encourages us to continue to contribute our unique understanding based on the understanding of the past. Our goal is to study the depth of our tradition just as our ancestors did, and to manifest the Light of the Torah and G-d’s Presence with new insights that arrive to us in our study as we search how it can be applied to our generation. Thus we continue the partnership that we honor with our ancestors and with G-d to make our world a place where we exalt the beauty and depth of our tradition which strives to bring peace, justice and the awareness and gratitude to G-d for the manifestation of creation.

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