April 10, 2020 – Passover Chol Ha-Moed

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Rosenberg

Our tradition teaches, “B’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza mimitzrayim – In every generation, each Jew should regard themselves as if they personally came out of Egypt.”

This year, Passover is different.   I think more than any other year, we find ourselves being able to connect with Passover in a very real way, namely we feel that we are in our own “Egypt.”  We are “slaves” to a virus, to a stay at home order. . . We don’t feel free to do those things that we normally would be doing.

For the past week, I have found myself truly wondering, “what were our ancestors thinking on the eve before the exodus?  Were they excited, were they scared, anxious, worried about what to pack, making sure to take those things they couldn’t live without?”

I stumbled across a teaching which offers a little insight.  In the book of Shemot (Exodus), just as the night has ended and the Israelites are getting ready to leave, to march out of Egypt the text says, in 13:18 “v’chamushim aloo v’nei Yisrael me’eretz mitzrayim – Now the Israelites went up ‘armed’ ( חֲמֻשִׁים, chamushim) out of the land of Egypt.”  You might be thinking, “What? They went armed? What does this mean and how did they get weapons?”   For now, set those questions aside for another day.  Yes, armed is the translation of chamushim and yet there is an asterisk in my text which then says, “meaning of Hebrew, uncertain.”  So, we don’t really know what chamushim means.

Not surprisingly, the rabbis take up a discussion of the word, chamushim.  Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael plays around with the letters of the word חֲמֻשִׁים, chamushim to suggest that if the vowels are altered slightly, the we can read it differently, chamishim, and it might actually mean that only one out of five (חֲמִשָּׁה, chamishah) Israelites left Egypt.  The arguments of the rabbis go even further, with the vowel change and suggest that perhaps only one out of 50 or even one out of 500 voluntarily left Egypt with Moses. This likely means that there were Israelites who simply refused to go.

Why?  Why would they stay in slavery? Why would they choose not to leave?  I think we all can guess the answer:  Fear. They feared the unknown. They feared going into the desert with Moses only to die of thirst or face other possible unimaginable things. Who could blame them?   Fear paralyzed those who chose not to go, and it was easier to stay put, to continue doing what was comfortable rather than facing an unknown that might make things better.

For many of us, fear and anxiety are everpresent.  Our lives have been upturned as we live in this new reality of staying at home, quarantining ourselves, in order to fight an invisible enemy.  For some, this is difficult and even painful, as it has meant the loss of physical connection with family and friends.  For others, the disruption of daily life, of not going to work or to school, of not having that regularly scheduled day, has been tremendously overwhelming.    And yet, some, have found the gift and the blessing of time, of not having to rush around and feel like they must be everywhere at the same time.

At this time, we don’t know what the next few weeks and even months may look like.  My hope though, is that we will focus on finding the blessings and the silver linings.

During this holy season, we remind ourselves, “bechol dor vadorIn every generation, each Jew should regard themselves as if they personally came out of Egypt.”  Let’s be like our ancestors who dared to dream of the possible, who dared to imagine what freedom and a new way of life might look like.  They put their trust in Moses, in God, in one another, and in themselves.  Were they still scared?  Absolutely, and the Torah reminds us of that – Moses wasn’t unafraid or unaffected, and we are told that Nachshon was the first to take that step forward into the sea when those who left had a moment of fear standing before the Red Sea.  Of course, just like them, we will have moments of fear and uncertainty, but we can’t let those moments paralyze us!   May we be like our ancestors and dare to dream of a better, brighter world post COVID 19.  What can you do, right now, to make that start?  What can you do to help move forward into the unknown?

May this Shabbat of Pesach bring joy, blessing, and creative inspiration!

Shabbat Shalom!

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