Singing at the sea and beginning again

BY RABBI JIM BENNETT

Gasping for air, grasping at life, sea foam lapping at their heels, the Israelites turned back to see the sea recede and calm return to the waters. The enemy was no more, surely peace lay before them. God had saved them for all time. Redemption had finally come!

Following Moses into the sea had done the trick! Yes, led, as the rabbis taught, by Moses and the courage of Nachson, willing to dive first into the unknown, they had escaped their worst fear. Song came to their lips, first tentatively, then with more confidence, certainty even. God had saved them! Who was like God? Praise be to God Almighty! They danced, they sang, they rejoiced! May the celebration never cease!

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The song still rang in the air, and yet suddenly silence descended. The people turned their eyes from the calming seas to the desert that lay beyond. Indeed, the journey had just begun. And far more enemies, far more challenges, far greater doubts would lay ahead. The miles and the years who prove that peace is elusive, that we must see every moment as a potential transition in our own lives.

Michael Walzer, in Exodus and Revolution, writes that the Exodus story teaches us three lessons: . . . first, that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt; . . . second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land; and . . . . third, that the way to the land is through the wilderness. There is no way to get there from here to there except by joining together and marching.

That is the true legacy of the Song at the Sea. Our ancestors were there, they had arrived, safely and joyously, and rightly they rejoiced. Yet they were not there at all — they had far to go, and so do we. There is much yet to be done.

We rejoice, and well we should, each time we, too, arrive at the shores of our sea. We celebrate, we thank God, we give thanks for our victory. And then we turn our faces toward the wilderness again, join hands, and begin our march together.

Rabbi Jim Bennett, of Congregation Shaare Emeth, is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.