Summoned to grow


Elie Wiesel says that people become the stories they hear and the stories they tell. Some stories trigger a sympathetic vibration which is amplified over time and, like our Exodus story, become best sellers. The transition from slavery to freedom is richly inscribed in the Jewish mindset.

Torah commands us to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim, the going out or emergence from Egypt. For Jews who participate in three daily services, the remembrance is woven into the spiritual pilgrimage of the liturgy. The Passover seder is choreographed to help us experience a sense of deliverance. The ceremony for first born male children, Pidyon Haben, is linked to the realization that each generation of Jewish children are redeemed that we may remember the cost of freedom.


As a story, Beshelach summons us. It is a narrative filled with drama. It is emotionally evocative; the circuitous route out of Mitzrayim, the uncertainty of the game plan, the miraculous birthing of the B’nei Israelites, the victimization by Amalek.

The text records that the desert had closed in on those taking flight. The people were compressed, boxed in, seemingly without options. Some express their fright in angry words directed at Moses. Out of their mouths — “better we should serve Egypt than die in the wilderness!”

Moses says, “Steady! Hold your peace! After today, you will never see Mitzrayim again.” The story line ostensibly is all about God’s grandeur, supremacy, and victory. Moses is saying, “You don’t have to do anything but be extras on the movie set!” On a deeper level, Moses is saying quite emphatically, “You will never see Mitzrayim in the same way.”

Moses is reminding us that life-altering events shatter our peace and narrow our vision. He is inviting the reader to expand the language of the text. Mitzrayim is the Hebrew word for Egypt. It comes from a collection of root words relating to narrowness, oppression, hardship, and sorrow. Thus, Mitzrayim is no longer a nation or a people who live in eternal infamy but a word which can be applied to those situations or events which we find terribly constricting.

Moses is saying that when the world is closing in on us; when our health suffers or our hope is imprisoned; or when our eyes are wounded by devastating sights — we must steady ourselves, hold our peace, and respond with clarity and purpose.

How do we hold our peace? The “Zohar” on this portion both asks and answers the question. “Do not arouse that which is not needed”. Do not allow fear to interfere. Do not allow misperceptions to misguide you. Do not miss the opportunity to be the higher self, able to discern kedusha-the holiness potential en route in life.

The enemies that pursue us have been around for a long time. They continue to have names that constrict our life force: ignorance, impoverishment, hardened hearts and closed minds to name just a few. Beshelach is not asking us to see this in others. It is inviting us to see this in ourselves and to become enduring agents for growth and self-transformation.

Rabbi Dale Schreiber is oncology chaplain and rabbi at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. She is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association and National Association of Jewish Chaplains.