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Parashat B’shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

“Your right hand, Adonai, glorious in power; your right hand, Adonai, dashes the enemy to pieces.”  (Exodus 15:6)

Parashat B’shalach describes a moment of exultation.  Finally freed from slavery, yet pursued by Pharoah’s army , the Israelites witness the miracle of the splitting of the sea.  In response Moses leads the people in celebratory song.  (Some scholars think the song was one an independent text that was embedded later into the Torah.)  That is why this Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song.

Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea is eighteen verses of powerful imagery, mostly depicting God as vengeful, powerful, and protective of the Israelite people.  The second verse, though, makes a quite statement of acknowledgement and anticipates a contemporary understanding of learning and identity formation by thousands of years.  “The LORD is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation; this is my God, and I will glorify Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.”  (Exodus 15: 2)  Rabbinic commentators note that only after personally experiencing (or, personally knowing) God’s might do the Israelite’s finally acknowledge and accept God’s supremacy.  Further, the rabbis observe that personal acceptance (“This is my God”) comes before historical acceptance (“My father’s God”).

JCCs are interested in helping Jews connect to Jewish tradition (which is just another way of saying the history of what Jews have done), and understand the first step is to help them experience personally the power of Jewish living today. The personal meaning that results can then drive an interest in connecting to the larger history.  Personal identity precedes communal identity.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,


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