Grade 7/GESHER is Amazing!
Posted on February 8, 2017
Gesher is amazing!
Today we participated in our communal Tefillah then Gesher students and collected the siddurim(prayer books). Since this is Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat on which Shirat haYam (the song of the sea) is chanted, we made bird feeders from pinecones, vegetable shortening and bird seed, because“Some have the custom this Shabbat, which is called Shabbat Shira, to place food, seeds, wheat kernels, and the like in front of birds as a commemoration of the Midrash which states that the children of the Jewish nation fed seeds that grew from the trees inside the Red Sea to birds and these birds joined in Israel’s song of praise to God.”
After making our bird feeders and nourishing ourselves with our own snacks, we embarked on a study of Parashat Beshallach. First we experienced an overview of the weekly Torah portion with a parashaplay from Sedra Scenes. Then we dug deeper examining the Torah text and exploring some ancient and contemporary midrash: This following story provides an introduction to the Nachshon midrash since it invites us to consider our own participation and responsibility in redemption.
God Will Surely Help
Morris was a G-d-fearing man. When the warning was sounded that a flood was coming, he had complete trust; G-d would protect him. So he remained in his home even while others fled. The local police came to his door and offered to help him evacuate, but he assured them: “Don’t worry, G-d will save me.” The rains came and the waters began to rise. The emergency rescue team came to his house in a boat and urged him to leave, but Morris refused to go with them, saying, “I’m not worried, G-d will save me.” As the flood worsened, Morris finally moved to the roof of his house to escape the water. A military helicopter flew over to him; but Morris turned them down, insisting, “I trust in G-d. He will provide a miracle.” Unfortunately, the storm continued unabated. Morris was carried off and drowned.
When Morris arrived in heaven, he was enraged. Morris approached the holy throne: “G-d how could you abandon me when I put all my trust in You?” Quickly, a response came, “Morris, I tried to help you. I sent your three miracles: the police in a car, the rescue workers in a boat, and the army in a helicopter. What were you waiting for?”
Having considered our own responsibility to realize and recognize our own responsibility to act we discussed the midrash of Nachshon:
NACHSHON, A MIDRASH
(as told by Rabbi Ed Feinstein in Dancing on the Edge of the World)
In this week’s parasha, we will find the Israelites, newly freed from slavery, camped at the shores of the sea.
Suddenly the rumbling of Pharaoh’s approaching chariots fill the air. Realizing they are trapped, the former slaves cry bitterly to Moses. “Were there too few graves in Egypt that you brought us to die here?”
Moses prays for deliverance.
God directs him, “Tell the Israelites to go forward. Lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and it will split.”
Moses lifts his rod, the sea splits, and the Israelites cross in safety. Then they behold the final act of the Exodus drama: the sea comes crashing down upon Pharaoh and his armies. The Egyptians drown in the Sea of Reeds just as they once drowned Israelite babies in the Nile. The Israelites raise their voices in song. They have been slaves, their parents were slaves, and their grandparents were slaves. But suddenly, over night, freedom and the promised return to the land of their forefathers.
That’s how the Torah tells the story. But the midrash adds a new dimension. According to the midrash, the people cry out, Moses prays, God commands. But when Moses lifts his rod, nothing happens. Moses tries again, carefully rehearsing God’s words to himself. And again, nothing. Panic wells up within him, he tries again, and again. The sea does not move. As beads of perspiration break out on his forehead, the people renew their screams of terror, but Moses is powerless.
And then suddenly, out of the crowd comes one man, Nachshon from the tribe of Judah. To the astonishment of the people gathered on the shores of the sea, Nachshon jumps into the water.
“Are you crazy? What are you doing?” shouts his family.
But Nachshon knows exactly what he is doing. He understands, as does no one else, not even Moses, why the sea would not split. He understands that until this moment, all of the redemption had been enacted by God: God had sent Moses to Pharaoh, God had sent the plagues that shattered Pharaoh’s arrogance, God had brought his people to the shores of the sea…everything accomplished by God.
But now God is waiting…waiting to see if any one, just one, of the Israelites is willing to take a risk for the sake of the promised freedom. Realizing this, Nachshon jumps in. He wades out into the water. The water covers his feet, his lower legs, his knees, and rises to his waist. His family and friends call to him frantically, “Nachshon, come back! Nachshon, you will drown!” The water reaches his chest, then his neck. His family’s screams fade, and his people stand in silence, watching in wonder. He wades out and the water reaches still higher. The water covers his chin, his lips, his nostrils, his eyes… The water rises up beyond his forehead. And when it reaches and covers the top of his head and his life is in peril, only then does the sea open creating a secure path for the Israelites to cross.
And then he is followed by the rest of the Israelites, who pass in safety.
This midrash teaches that God can only create the conditions for redemption of the world. But if redemption is truly to come, someone must jump into the water. Someone visionary and brave must be willing to put life on the line and jump into the waters of history to bring the rest of us out of slavery.
In every generation there are Nachshons willing to jump into the water. Sometimes the water splits, and sometimes it doesn’t. But those who have the faith to take the first courageous step redeem the rest of us still hovering on the shore.
We discussed historic persona who were also Nachshons (Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, W.E. Debois, Desmond Montella) and then examined other midrashim:
The Israelites at the Red Sea were divided into four groups.
One group said, “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.”
The group that said, “Let us throw ourselves into the sea,” was told,
“Stand by, and witness the deliverance that the Lord will work for you today.”
One said, “Let us return to Egypt.”
The one that said, “Let us return to Egypt,” was told,
“For the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again.”
One said, “Let us fight against them.”
The one that said, “Let us fight them,” was told,
“The Lord will do battle for you.”
And one said, “Let us scream out against them.”
The one that said, “Let us scream out against them,” was told,
“And you shall hold your peace.”
- What are the potential consequences for each group based on their response?
- Which group would you have joined and why?
- What does this midrash suggest about Jewish unity?
- What does each answer mean?
The Holy One, blessed be He, would bring the horse and his driver and make them stand trial. He would say to the horse, “Why did you run after My children?” The horse would answer, “The Egyptian drove me against my will, as it is said: ‘And the Egyptians pursued…’” (Exodus 14:9)
G-d would then say to the Egyptian, “Why did you pursue My children?” And he would answer, “It was the horse that ran away with me against my will, as it is said, ‘For the horses of Pharaoh went in…’” (Exodus 15:19)
What would G-d do?
He would make the man ride upon the horse and thus judge them together. As it is said, “The horse and driver He has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:1).
- What contemporary situations does this midrash make you think about?
- What might the midrash be saying about human nature?
- Earlier in the Book of Exodus, G-d says,
“And I will stiffen the hearts of the Egyptians so that they go in after them; and I will gain glory through Pharaoh and his warriors, his chariots and his horsemen” (Exodus 14:17).
· With this in mind, what is your reaction to the midrash?
Our day ended by opening the Chumash and looking at chapter 15 to see the unusual spacing of the words in the Shirat haYam section of the parasha. And also considering Miriam’s song, Exodus 15: 21-22.