Parshat Chol haMoed

Torah Reading for Week of April 5 – April 11, 2009

“Taking A Breath: Moving From Slavery To Freedom To Composure”

by Hazzan Neil F. Blumofe
AJRCA Rabbinical Student

In the closing Festival Days of Pesach, we chant the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15), to celebrate our miraculous passing as a people between a suspended sea onto dry land. In preparation for this astonishing event, on this day, Shabbat Chol haMoed Pesach, we are encamped at Pi haHirot, surrounded by Migdol, the sea, and before us is a place called Ba’al Ts’phon (Exodus 14:2). Here, our movements are again narrowed as we prepare ourselves to experience the miracle of walking together through the separated waters.

Just days after our sedarim, when we deliberately move from slavery to freedom – why on this Shabbat do we intentionally relive a severe constriction as we are boxed in, with the wilderness as our potential graves “mimuteinu bamidbar?” (Exodus 14:12)?

Midrash on Exodus 14:2 was brought down by R’ Moshe of Kobrin, a Hasidic master. He taught that just after the highest moments of celebrating freedom is the most beneficial time to perform acts of collective teshuvah (repentance). After oursedarim, as we have retold our stories, reopened our Haggadot, and rearticulated the meanings of freedom, our mouths (peh) must now come to rest as we reflect on our new responsibilities and status – on our quickly gained, hyper-freedom (herut).

This is a time for reflection and calm, before our transformational moment of redemption, as we break free from slavery. We reflect on our words before we carry forth – before we move into uncharted seas. For we ask, what does it mean to be free?

There is tension as we move between civilization and the wilderness and as we endeavor to craft out of the desert, a new civilization. Sculpting together a motley group of former slaves from disparate experiences into a society is a difficult task, one that demands the best parts of each person’s character. Negotiating status (the role of the individual versus community) and cultivating patience and compassion is crucial as the partnership between G-d and G-d’s creation is explored.

As people, what are we capable of as we are carried by our talents and our challenges? How do we make sense of our desires? As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th century commentator teaches, the enterprise of Israel is dependent on the unity of the whole. To continue our unfolding relationship with G-d, we move beyond fragmentation of the soul into a realm of collective care. Whether for good or bad, we are responsible for each other and we stand with each other, dismissing judgment, equipped with resilience and determination, as we survive to dig in – trying to make sense of our multiple and conflicting emotions and needs within the sacred messiness of our lives.

The profundity of our story speaks as we continue to have the words of our living Torah come alive: in our moments of contemplation, we consider G-d from each of our own places, in all of G-d’s majestic divine forms and possibilities. It is time for return and repentance, especially now as we feel ourselves, both individually and as a community, between a rock and a hard place.

Shabbat Shalom.