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Parashat Beshalach

January 29, 2021
16 Sh'vat 578
Parashat Beshalac
Exodus 13:17 - 17:16

Dear Friends,

Where do we begin this week? So much is going on, and there is so much to reflect upon, with many strands that are seemingly disparate. Yet, when woven together, they are a potent reminder of who we are and what we are enjoined to do. At the end of the day, I am left with the following question: why is it so important to remember our stories, whether they are biblical, historical, or personal?

This week, we observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Tu B’Shevat (the New Year of the Trees). We read the parsha about the start of our ancestors' journey out of the land of Egypt. As the saying goes, begin at the beginning. Our beginning is our journey out of Egypt, when we went from being a family to being a people -- a complicated transition.

When we look at Parshat Beshalach, we are faced with a story that is no longer about individuals as much as it is about people faced with one new situation after another in rapid succession. When does the story shift, and the individuals come together to become a people?

Does the shift happen when this mixed multitude comes to the sea, crosses it, and sings a new song? Or does it happen when the complaining starts (first about bitter water)? Is it the respite at an oasis or is it the culmination when, after more complaints, the people are provided with manna? So much happens, it is difficult to take it all in. No wonder the people are overwhelmed. They experience a series of extremes. What are they supposed to make of it? How are we to look at it?

Our tradition provides the clue. Our practice of taking the story apart slowly, piece by piece, retelling it over and over again, and examining it through the different lenses available to us, provides us with different ways of understanding ourselves.

In this week of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the power of telling our story gains greater resonance as the last survivors of the Shoah become fewer and fewer. We ask what part of this story is most important and what must we remember? Are we here to tell the story yet again, uncovering new information as we go, and working hard to keep revisionist history out of the mix? How do we use our skills as story tellers so that its meaning and power are retained?

The importance of remembering is made more important by the resurgence of anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism throughout the world. Simply surviving is not enough. So what stories do we tell and how do we tell them? We have been reminded over and over again to remember that we were slaves in the land of Egypt, not because it was easy to get past the trauma of slavery, but because it was difficult. When we remember our story, maybe -- just maybe -- we can see the suffering of others with greater clarity.

This week also contains Tu B’Shevat, which began as a biblical tax holiday marking the new year of the trees. The story of Tu B’Shevat is that of a holiday that has changed over and over again, with each generation providing a different lens. As we celebrate tonight, eating all manner of fruit, drinking, and of course, singing, we are reminded that what we have cannot be taken for granted. We are the stewards of the earth, and its bounty will survive only if we acknowledge that what the earth provides is fragile. And as we sing together, we tell the story.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, June 15 2021 5 Tammuz 5781