Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hearts Of Summer Held In Trust, Still Tender Young And Green (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Days Between"

The other night our kids asked me a question that I felt utterly embarrassed to answer.  What question could my kids ask that answering it would be a source of shame and embarrassment? No, it was not answering any questions about my younger years and my youthful indiscretions. I had to offer an appropriate answer for the U.S. governments shut-down from last Shabbat until Monday. I was so embarrassed at having to explain to my children how a system of government established by wise and brilliant leaders of their generation had become broken by leaders of their generation who are not so brilliant, not so wise and don’t seem to have the needs of their country at heart. Even worse, as we discussed recent government shut down, as we watched the news, all three of our children pointed to the fact that it appears that shut-down was caused by a lack of trust, a lack of trust in the President, and a lack of trust in the Senate Majority leader and the Senate Minority leader. When the government shut down ended, my children astutely noted that the three-week solution cobbled together by the Senate is predicated entirely on Trust.  I reminded them that trust is a foundation to a civilized society, trust is a foundation to democracy and trust is a foundation to a strong Jewish community.  
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shira (Shabbat of Songs) because of the "songs" or poetry in both the Parsha, Beshallach, and in the Haftarah. In Parsha Beshallach, B'nai Yisroel finally leaves Egypt. Pharaoh sends them out and they hurriedly leave. Three days later, B'nai Yisroel arrives at the Yam Suf, the Reed Sea, which is along the Mediterranean coast. With Pharaoh's army behind them and the Sea in front, B'nai Yisroel is trapped. Then the sea opens up, B'nai Yisroel crosses through and arrives safely on the other side. The Egyptian army gets caught in the seabed as the waters come crashing down. Out of joy and relief, B'nai Yisroel composes Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea. No sooner are they finished celebrating, then they begin complaining about the lack of water and food. God provides water and Manna. However, B'nai Yisroel is still not safe. Now they are attacked by the indigenous tribe, the Amalekites. B'nai Yisroel must put aside its hunger and thirst and fight for their lives. They do, and they are victorious. The Parsha ends with God commanding Moshe to blot out the very existence of the Amalekites.
From the time B’nai Yisroel complains to Moshe about the oncoming Egyptian army and Yam Suf that lies before them, to the lack of water, lack of food and lack of meat, one could understand the entire Parsha as B’nai Yisroel’s lack of trust and God testing B’nai Yisroel’s faith. With all the complaining, with the refrain of the people cynically asking Moshe if God brought them out of Egypt to have them die in the wilderness, or die on the banks of the Yam Suf; it is very easy to view these newly released slaves as not at all ready to engage in a covenantal relationship with God since they do not trust God to help them, provide for them and fulfill his side of the covenant. However, the Midrash in Shmot Rabbah teaches us that Nachshon ben Aminadov from the tribe of Judah went first into the Reed Sea even before it split open. In fact, the waters didn’t open up until he was completely submerged. Only then did the waters open due to his faith and the rest of B’nai Yisroel followed.  The sea didn’t part because of Moshe’s praying on behalf of the people; it split because of one man’s trust in God, one man’s  Emunah, one man’s faith that taking the next step forward would ultimately prove to be the step that saved a nation.  As a result of Nachshon’s faith and his trust in God, the tribe of Judah would have dominion over Israel.
If my children learned anything this past week, they began to understand just the fragile nature of institutions that we take for granted. When the electorate doesn’t trust the government, we have problems. When people don’t trust the press or science or facts, we have problems. When we can’t trust religious institutions because of corrupt behavior, we have problems. Trust seems to be a cornerstone of any free society upon which a covenant exists. Governments are supposed to protect and care for its citizens, and the citizens pay taxes. In the Jewish world, the idea of Kashrut is predicated entirely on trust, trust that the Rabbi or Kosher organization is following and interpreting the rules Kashrut. In the world of human relationships, this past week demonstrated what happens when people do not trust others and when they do trust others. Solutions are found and agreements are followed when there is trust. Problems are intractable and never ending when there is no trust.
Rav Yitz

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