'The Crossing of the Red Sea,’ by Nicholas Poussin, 1634.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
"The moment waits for you.” This is a rabbinic account of God’s words to Moses and the Israelites as they stood at the Sea of Reeds stuck, for the longest ticking seconds of their lives. The sea was at their feet and the Egyptian soldiers behind them.
The moment waits for you.
What an astonishing sentence. Each second, each millisecond, is an opportunity to change the world, to bring redemption. It was up to Moses and the people to move forward, to shake the hold that fear had on them and part the sea, to claim a covenant with God and determine a future not only unlike but the very opposite of Egypt’s narrow, rigid, self-protective fear.
Too often we, the Jewish people, have stood at that precipice, pursuers at our backs, the wild waters of an unknown future at our feet. I do not need to enumerate our history here, from Assyria through those who would destroy our modern State of Israel – even the “soft” yet hateful pursuit against us though international bodies and BDS-type movements.
Yet, this Passover, I want to grab the moment that, in fact, does wait for us. To imagine at this moment a future devoid of the forces of cruel rigidity that choose, or perhaps by strange perverse habit, seek to destroy us.
Imagining that moment demands courage and risk-taking. It means refusing to allow the world’s hard-heartedness to tempt us to make our hearts closed, like Pharaoh’s – believing that rigidity keeps us safe. Like a protective cocoon, we must shed that rigidity or we will die, physically and spiritually. Because at a certain point the moment that waits might offer an illusion of safety that is, in reality, the opposite of safety. Being Jewish, I believe, is about the courage that Nahshon had when he immersed himself in the waters, trusting that God would meet him halfway and part the sea – the courage of a people moving forward with strange new food, with thunder and lightning, with an unknown Torah as our guide.
I fear that, finally through the watery sea and the dry desert and millennia of roaming, we have lost that courage and instead define ourselves by the religious cocoon made up of essential yet unchallenging mitzvot, the ones that do not scare us.
And we not only avoid but demonize the mitzvot that do scare us, that demand the faith that God will meet us halfway, will part the seas of dark mystery and ironically self-defeating caution.
We wrap ourselves in kashrut and Shabbat and holidays and prayer and other risk-free religious acts as if there is (excuse the mixed traditions) a platonic ideal of each. If only we can make each Shabbat “perfect”! If only we can make the kashrut of all our food “perfect”! If only we can have a flawlessly clean house for Passover with nary a crumb, then... then what? No! That is the rigidity of a Pharaoh-like heart, if they become ends in themselves and not ways to orient ourselves to Sinai, to partner with God in building a world of courage and compassion.
Let us follow the courage of the daughter of Pharaoh, who cared for the vulnerable baby Moses despite the naysayers. After all, “to adopt” is la’ametz, alef-mem-tzadi, which is the word for courageous strength. Adopting a child is an act of strength, a challenging mitzva. If we have the courage to make a family, including through adoption, don’t we believe that God will meet us? Let this Passover mark our freedom from fear, and the false self-protection that binds us, still, to Pharaoh. Let us not only remember that we were strangers in a strange land, but demand action from that memory.
If Passover is not an end in itself (“My house is so clean! I’m done!”), but a holy vessel, then does it not point to a better world – one of courageous redemption for the orphan and the stranger alike? The moment waits for us. The writer, a rabbi, lives in Jerusalem. She works on behalf of asylum seekers in Israel and for permanent, loving families for all children through adoption. She is the author of Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World (Da Capo Press) and the director of Second Nurture (communityadoption.org).