Thursday, January 24, 2013

Two-Minute Torah -- My Father's God, Parashat BeShalach

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah, "the Sabbath of Song," because
we read "Shirat Ha-Yam," the song at the sea which Moses and the Children
of Israel sang after being delivered from the Egyptians via the parting of the
Red Sea.

There is much that could be said about the "Song at the Sea" but I want to
focus on one half of one verse. Exodus Chapter 15, verse 2 says "The Lord is
my strength and song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and
I will praise him; my father’s God, and I will exalt him."

The Chasidic master Rabbi Meir of Premislan commented on the second half
of the verse thusly: "If a Jew says: “this is my God” and tries to serve God
according to his strength and his understanding, then “and I will glorify Him”
- it is good and fitting.

But if he says ”the God of my father”, relying on the merits of his righteous
ancestors, rather than toiling and working hard to find the path of truth,
then ‘and I will exalt Him’ - he is only an arrogant person, empty and

If I had a nickel for every Jew who told me that his or her grandparents
were "very religious" or that his or her grandfather was "a very Orthodox
rabbi" I would have a lot of nickels! It's nice that our ancestors were pious,
but pious ancestors don't guarantee that one has a rich and fulfilling spiritual
life, nor do pious ancestors create a Jewish future. While authentic Judaism
is always concerned about respect for the past and continuity with it, our job
is to build the present and the future.

Debbie Friedman passed away two years ago on the first day of the week
of Shabbat Shirah. You may or may not know her name, but you certainly
know her music. She wrote the "MiSheberach" prayer for healing we sing
every Shabbat morning as well as the tune for Havdalah which is probably
the one most widely used by American Jews of all stripes. She did much to
change the very paradigm of American Jewish worship -- from passive to
participatory, from elitist to inclusive. She did much to broaden our liturgy
and song to include not only "our fathers" but "our mothers" as well, most
famously taking a verse from this week's reading and turning it into a song
about Miriam the Prophetess leading the Israelite women in dancing with
their timbrels. Her memory is a blessing and an inspiration.

No comments: