Monday, April 17, 2017

Walls of Water: 7th day of Passover ‎‎2017‎

In every generation, we must each see ‎ourselves as if we left Egypt, as if we ‎crossed the Reed Sea. ‎Therefore, we stand ‎when reading the Song of the Sea from a ‎Torah scroll. ‎

What did an ordinary Israelite feel when ‎crossing the sea on dry land, when walking ‎through the ‎dark towards freedom?‎‏ ‏We cannot know for sure but these verses supply a ‎hint:‎‏ ‏‎
The Eternal drove ‎back the sea with a ‎strong east wind all that night, and ‎turned the sea into dry ground. The ‎waters ‎were split, and the Israelites went ‎into the sea on dry ground”‎‏ ‏‎(Exodus 14:21-22).‎
A wind from God sweeps over the ‎water, divides waters, and gathers ‎them so dry land can appear.‎‏ ‏Does that sound familiar? We have ‎returned to Genesis. The ten plagues ‎undid creation in Egypt. ‎Splitting the sea was ‎a moment of re-creation.‎‏ ‏

Exposing dry land was an essential ‎component of creation just as it was essential for the Israelites’ ‎walk to ‎freedom. Despite this, I want to ‎focus on the waters that “formed a wall for ‎them on their ‎right and on their left” (Exodus 14:22). 

Walls of water. ‎
Photo Illustration/Paula C. Rondeau/The Real Truth
In Egypt and the ancient Near ‎East, masses of water symbolized primordial forces ‎of chaos, ‎sometimes ‎concretized as Leviathan or the mother of the gods ‎Tiamat, whose name is apparently ‎related to the ‎Hebrew word “tahom,” ‎the deep in Genesis 1.‎‏ ‏The Bible generally suppresses this ‎mythology but its ‎memory and a few references ‎survived, including Psalm 74, ‎which tells a different story of creation, ‎in which God decimates primordial water forces:‎
O God, my king from of old…‎‏ ‏‎it was You who drove back the sea ‎with Your might, who ‎smashed the heads ‎of the monsters in the waters;‎‏ ‏‎it was You who crushed the heads ‎of ‎Leviathan, who left him as food for the ‎denizens of the desert;‎‏ ‏‎it was You who released ‎springs and ‎torrents, who made mighty rivers run ‎dry (Ps. 74: 12-15).‎
Facing the desert, with Pharaoh and his ‎army pursuing them, the Israelites ‎marched through the ‎darkness between ‎walls of primordial chaos.‎‏ 
What did they feel? Fear and terror.‎ 
Despite it all, the ‎freed slaves put one ‎foot in front of the other, and walked ‎together until they reached the other ‎side.‎

In the collective memory of the Jewish ‎people, splitting the Reed Sea is a root ‎experience, a ‎commanding event from the past that is ‎accessible in the present, as defined by ‎the Jewish-German-‎Canadian ‎philosopher Emil Fackenheim.
In ‎God’s Presence in History, Fackenheim ‎presents ‎splitting the Reed Sea as the prime ‎example of a root experience in Judaism. ‎He focuses on the ‎vision of the ‎maidservants who saw even what the ‎prophet Ezekiel would not see (as per Mekhilta Shirata 3).‎ ‏ 


The central stream in Judaism, that ‎which formalized our liturgy, preserves ‎the memory of the ‎splitting of the Reed Sea ‎and makes it present as the ultimate ‎realization of God’s saving power.‎‏ 

Without denying their claims, I want to ‎add another layer.‎‏ 

Before the Exodus from Egypt ‎was ‎complete; before “The Lord is my ‎strength and might” and “This is my God ‎who I shall ‎glorify,” the Israelites were surrounded by the Egyptian ‎army and threatening walls ‎of water. ‎Before jubilation, ordinary ‎people slogged through the mud in the dark, ‎supporting each other. ‎These are elements in the story of redemption no ‎less than the Song.‎

When disorder exceeds order, the ‎swamp is threatening and fog hides the ‎light,‎ we can return to our ‎root story, and recall that the ‎Exodus from Egypt happened at night, in ‎the mud. When God is ‎hidden, we ‎can support each other and together ‎forge a way forward. Perhaps we will be ‎able to ‎feel the presence of God for a ‎moment or see the light of life breaking ‎through, just a bit.‎

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