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The Rabbi’s Rave Parsha Beshalach, Shemot (Exodus) 13:17 – 17:16

This week’s D’var Torah on Beshallach is based on a teaching in Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

In our Torah portion, the Jewish people leave Egypt. Pharaoh regrets letting them go, pursues them leading his chosen chariot corps and a huge army. The Jews rebel and cry out to Moses, “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt? Why did you bring us out here to die in the desert?” (Shemot 18:11)

The Parsha begins, “And it was when Pharaoh sent the people, God did not lead them by the land of the Philistines, for God said perhaps the people will regret (leaving Egypt) and will return to Egypt.” (Shemot 13:17) How is it possible that after all the Jewish people suffered in Egypt and all of the miracles they witnessed that they would consider going back?

This is not an uncommon reaction to the expansiveness of real freedom. Freedom is liberating but it is also terrifying. When we free ourselves from our dysfunctions and habitual behaviors, our negative thoughts, we often feel lost and anxious. We know that our current state of body, mind, emotion, and spirit is an improvement over what was but now we are forced to confront what is. And if we have not built a new structure, a new way to encounter our world, we can easily backslide into our previous state. Consider an alcoholic who, on their own, stops drinking, but has no support network or system upon which to rely when the stresses of living cause them to seek escape, or a dieter who does not participate in a weekly weigh in and lifestyle coaching.

We must take into account that we are a mix of body and soul. One needs constant vigilance and a forgiving spirit, especially in relation to ones’ own weaknesses. At one moment we can feel as if our spiritual state is elevated. However, when we are stressed out we can panic and resort to previous behaviors. So it was with the Israelites. They had become aware that a Divine providence was at work in their lives but that could be lost quickly because of fear of the unknown.

This same ability to change quickly can also be a source of great hope. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav used to say; “dysfunction takes a lifetime – change takes only an instant.” We can change anytime we so choose, and if we fall, we can immediately pick ourselves up and start our climb to a better life once again. We need only align our will with the Higher Will.

Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer

Bethesda Jewish Congregation

Bethesda Jewish Congregation