"For Paris" (Shabbat AM, 11/14/15)
Rabbi Noa Kushner
Once we were running from Pharaoh, certain he would destroy us, but trying to run just the same. And then, instead of running into our new lives, we came smack up against the raging sea.
In the Technicolor version the sea opens and we cross to safety and sing to God.
But the Rabbis notice that Torah says, “The Israelites entered into the midst of the sea, on dry ground,” and they want to know, how could it be both? Either we started in the sea or on dry ground. Which is it?
Their answer? The strange phrase must mean we opened the sea with our crossing. The sea was only a sea until we entered it.*
Remember: Pharaoh was close behind us. We went inside the ocean, not because it was pretty or dramatic, but because our lives depended on it. There was no other choice.
In thinking of Paris, maybe we as a society, as a world, maybe we too are on the edge of the ocean. We stand, just having experienced the flattening and the narrowness of violence, and the future is uncertain. We are frightened. Which way is there for us to go?
The image that comes to mind in a form of an answer is of the people of the world pouring into Paris last January, into the streets.
I saw the aerial photos.
And it looked like rivers of people marching in solidarity and peace.
A living river of thousands and thousands.
And I remembered this moment of crossing from Torah.
And the buildings of Paris looked like the walls of water on either side.
And the people were walking all together on dry ground.
It was impossible that they would all come out of their homes together at that moment but it was happening,
Their marching changed what had been and it changed the streets around them.
The crossing is never simple nor is it risk free.
But the way back is darkness.
So we will go together.
We will do what our neighbors and family need from us in Paris.
We will leave our homes and gather in the streets. We will change what is around us by stepping in. We will make oceans part.
As long as it takes, as many times as it takes.
* Avivah Gottleib Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus, p. 215. See also Exodus 14:22, Shemot Rabba 21:9.