Voices of WRJ: B’shalach

January 29, 2021Judy Wexler

 

Recently, I came upon my Bat Mitzvah invitationprinted on its 1970s-era, bright yellow, daisy-covered stationery. At first, I was amused, and then I became nostalgic because it brought up memories of my first time chanting from this week’s Torah portion, Parashah B’shalach. 

B’shalach begins with the Israelites’ departure from Egypt as free people—only to be pursued by Pharaoh and his forces. The people show resistance to Moses for bringing them out of Egypt, as they fear that they will die in the wilderness. However, as we know, God splits the Sea of Reeds, allowing the Israelites to pass safely showing God’s strength to both the Israelites and the Egyptians. The Shirah (or Song at the Sea) then begins (Exodus 15:1),

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Eternal.

They said: 

I will sing to the Eternal, for He has triumphed gloriously;

Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”

The Shirah continues for 19 verses in total, proclaiming God’s glory for saving the Israelites from Pharaoh. It is followed by the familiar, echoing words of the Song of Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21):

“Then Miriam the prophet Aaron’s sister picked up a hand-drum, and all the women went out after her in dance with hand-drums. And Miriam chanted for them: 

Sing to Adonai, for He has triumphed gloriously.

Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”  

Reading B’shalach brings back memoriesto my chanting the Shirah on the seventh day of Pesach when it is read for a second time each year. At the age of 13, I wasn’t yet able to recognize the feelings of gratitude that must have inspired the Shirah. How overwhelmed the Israelites seemed to be. They were saved by what must have seemed impossible when they thought death was upon them. They were able to put those feelings into words, as they heaped praise on God for their freedom and futures.

It is particularly inspiring to see Miriam’s action and leadership at this moment. She must have also felt fear and uncertainty. However, she was able to act decisively, lead, and help others. How many times have our WRJ women danced and sang to Debbie Friedman’s Miriam’s Song, based on this Torah portion? It has served as a source of gratitude and joy for so many.

Showing gratitude and praise toward God is not always easy. In our current pandemic world, things often seem bleak. Just as the Israelites must have felt tremendous fear as they ventured out into the wilderness, our lives now often feel dark and lonely. However, each day, I try to remember how important gratitude is. Right now, so many in our country and the greater world have lost their jobs. So many have lost their homes. And so many are hungry.

Nonetheless, many amongst us can help. Every day is a new opportunity to reach out to others—for those of us who have the capacity. I find that when I do this, it is so much easier to find gratitude. 

In Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, we learn that Frankl found meaning in work, in love, and in courage in the darkest of times during the Holocaust. He teaches that it is the way we respond to the difficulty that helps define us. I read Frankl’s inspirational book this past summer for the first time. His ability to find meaning in despair helped push me outside of my own challenges. I have tried to take some lessons from it and find meaning in reaching out to others. 

WRJ’s advocacy work has also helped me find opportunities in this search, and I am so grateful for the connections I have made as a result. By looking for meaning through this work, I have been able to feel gratitude for my own situationand to feel thankful for all our futures. We may be in dark times, but there is so much to appreciate, and getting outside ourselves and helping others can support us in understanding our freedom and feel joy. I feel honored to be a part of WRJ’s efforts.

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Judy Wexler is an incoming Vice President of WRJ North America, and co-chair of the 2021 WRJ Resolutions Committee. Judy is also VP of Social Justice for WRJ Midwest District. She is a past sisterhood president and a past synagogue president of North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois. 

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