The Secret for the Deepest Connection: Just Be There! – Parashat Beshalach
Moses and the Children of Israel have just come out of one of the most bizarre events in their lives. On the one hand, they experienced extreme fear being chased by the Egyptian army, one of the strongest armies in the world, and on the other hand they faced the dramatic miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. There are multiple positions regarding the nature of this splitting of the sea and what exactly happened with the water, but for now we’ll concentrate on another aspect, Moses’s reaction to this experience.
So here are Moses and the People, still adrenaline-filled, standing at the other bank of the great river. And at this point, where any political leader would start his victory speech, Moses chooses to pray. His prayer is long and full of metaphors and praise to God. But it is in one specific sentence that Moses expresses what’s in the depth of his heart and an opening to the theological and spiritual essence of Judaism: “Ozi Vezimrat Yah Vayehi Li Liyshu’a” – “My strength and the singing of God shall be my redemption” (Exodus 15:2). Moses presents a formula for redemption which relies on 2 different sources of power: the first my own strength, the second is the song of God. Moses declares a partnership between God and Man. So what exactly is my strength as an individual and what is the song of God?
My strength is my internal drive, that which includes my wills from the simplest ones to the most sublime. The search for freedom, love, “parnasa”-sustainability, rest etc. And it is our challenge to direct these wills so that they are not devoid of content and don’t become some egocentric search.
What is the song of God? How can we hear it? Maimonides explains that God expresses himself in the laws of nature. What does he mean? Arthur Green elaborates. To him, God is not an external entity which acts upon this world, but rather God is present in all of existence. He is an infinity which dwells in each living creature on any given moment. But Green also explains that he chooses to make God personal, to believe that God is some type of a being which is able to love him, to be happy with the fleeting moment in which it dwells within him, and to appreciate his unique existence. Man is partner to “the One” in the survival and preservation of Earth and all the things which have developed on it. “The song of God” is for Green the question “Ayeka?”-“where are you?” to which Man answers in 3 levels: intellectually, by opening his mind; emotionally, by increasing awareness, breaking our barriers and self-defensiveness; and last but not least, in action, since “the One” exists in all creatures He asks to be known and to be loved in all its faces. And especially so when speaking about human beings. We can’t expect a person to recognize God within himself while he is hungry. We need to help people discover the divine aspect in their existence, any way they choose to express it, and for this we are required to overcome barriers – social, political and financial.
Abraham Joshua Heschel also talks about God who is “in search of Man”, the same search which is for Green the question “where are you?” and which Moses refers to as “the singing of God”. It is a divine call which always sounds in this world… How do we answer this call? How can we turn it into redemption? The combination “my strength and the singing of God” is an expression to one’s connection to his surroundings. Such connection must be based on self-awareness together with recognition of the call. When both are present, through a reflective action, one may find his way to redemption. For Moses, his own reflective action, the prayer, is an expression of his new understanding.
So how can we know that this connection between the force that drives us and what we believe to be the song of God is not actually the expression of some selfish illusion that we have created?
To this Heschel replies that our way to know whether our conscious is leading us in the right way is by referring to the vision of the prophets of Israel, who ask for peace, justice and love of mercy. “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
A beautiful example of how one can walk humbly with God and be fully present in the time and space we can find in the story about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. It is told that he spent a long time in search of a man who would be worthy of blowing the shofar in his shul. Many righteous men sought the privilege, all demonstrating their expertise in the vague Kabalistic secrets associated with the Shofar. But none was to his taste. One day a new applicant came along, and the Rabbi asked him on what mysteries he meditated while he was performing the mitzva. “Rebbe,” said the newcomer, “I’m only a simple fellow; I don’t understand too much about the hidden things in the Torah. But I have four daughters of marriageable age, and when I blow the Shofar, this is what I have in mind: ‘Master of the Universe! Right now I am carrying out Your will. I’m doing Your Mitzva and blowing the Shofar. Now supposing You too do what I want, and help me marry off my daughters?’ ” “My friend,” said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, “you will blow the shofar for us!”.
Every day in our prayers we repeat “Veahavta et Adonai Eloheicha…” – “You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your being”. Then we remember that loving God, the creation, or whatever name you use to define that which is sublime and intangible is not by claiming big slogans but by the simplicity of recognizing where you are and facing the challenge of standing /walking humble and being present!