01/26/2018 11:46 AM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar

Now When [Pharaoh] Let [the People] Go
Exodus 13:17−17:16

I am sure many of you remember the line from the movie Forrest Gump – "Life is like a Box of Chocolates.”  Using this memorable phrase, Tom Hanks’ character then goes on to say, "You never know what you’re going to get.”   Metaphors for life abound, but not as many for the life of a young child or adolescent in school.  There are many songs about not wanting to go to school, but not many lines or aphorisms to encapsulate the journey.  For me, B’shalach has always done this.

In this week’s Parasha, we are presented with yet another iconic moment in the history of the Jewish people.  The crossing of the Red Sea – or the Sea of Reeds - is a foundational moment of transition and liberation – both physical and psychological.  This week I shared with our students that this moment in our tradition can be compared to the life of a student coming into our school.

There is, of course, a path opened up for the Israelites - God and Moses have done this wondrous thing for us.  What they see and what they promote is the bravery it takes to take the first step along this path and the promise is on the other side.  They acknowledge the fear of going from one familiar place to a new place but what is interesting is that we never get a sense that they know just how scary this journey is.  Cecil B. DeMille in "The Ten Commandments” tried to convey the horror of walking down a path lined by treacherous seas.  And when you think about it, yes, that must have been terrifying.  To walk down what was a clear path, but to be confronted at every step with, well, the sea, right there, being held up by what – we are really not sure.  It is possible that at every step, they may have seen a creature looking at them as if they were lunch.  It is also possible there were regular splashes of water, reminding them at every step that what was being held back now could come crashing down at any moment.  And their only consolation was to trust in Moses and in God.

If you can stop for a second to think about our students, there are many similarities.  We have laid out a path for them.  We have given them tremendous opportunity.  But that path is lined with dangers – both real and perceived – that we may never understand even though we can try to reflect on our own time in school.  The problem is that we are reflecting with the mind of an adult.  So again, that fear; that trepidation; that daily step they take down this path lined with challenges, obstacles, and sheer terror – that is something they are processing in their own unique ways. 

We know many are like Nachshon, the brave soul who took the first step.  But many are not.  Many are consumed by fear.  Though we help them get over that fear minute by minute, day by day, year by year, this wall of fear we can imagine from B’shalach, it is seemingly never-ending and the promise we talk about is generally not in sight for those taking the journey.  Of course we know the end of the story.  In the middle of that vast sea, the Israelites did not – and neither do our students.

Is this to say that we should just turn this venture around and bring everyone to safety on the shore?  Of course not.  And that is one of the lessons of theParasha.  We must take risks, we must trust sometimes, and we must sometimes take that first step even though it terrifies us.  But I truly enjoy thinking about that journey and that wall of fear that presented itself to the Israelites with every step.  It can be a very helpful image whenever we think we have paved a path for our students that we think should be just easy-peasy to follow.

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study /

B’shalach for Tots / B’shalach for Tweens / Leading a Family Torah Discussion

Categorized under:  Torah

01/19/2018 08:27 AM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
Bo – Go (to Pharaoh)
Exodus 10:1 to 13:16
The continuing saga of the Exodus from Egypt includes a command from God to return to Pharaoh to once again demand he free the Hebrew slaves.
A theme of focus this week at Shlenker has been the continuing conversation between Moses and God – or God and the Jewish people. We recalled how all this started with Moses and the burning bush and that intimate conversation we can all have with God.
This week, there is important work to be done and the central story of Passover will unfold from now until we sit down for our Seder. Mitzrayim, or Egypt, is the word that appears most in the Torah.  Not even Adonai or other names for God surpass it.  In asking students what that says about this central story in our tradition their responses were spot-on.  First, they get that this was an unfolding story, filled with important characters and dramas.  Second, because of how long we spend unfolding this story, it must have great importance in our tradition.
And they were right.  Miriam, Moses, Jethro, the Bush, the Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, 40 years in the desert, receiving the law at Sinai - these are the stories of the Exodus, and in many ways they shape who we are as a people.
Themes of liberation, independence, strength, fortitude, perseverance, faith, and mitzvot.  These are the concepts that spring from our current narrative and so it is right and true that we take notice.  We begin with noticing a simple bush.  We continue with the evolution and psychological development of our people and our faith.
In Bo, we also ask why we had to return to Pharaoh.  We ask - why the need for the plagues?  I asked our students if they thought they learned more if someone gives them the answer or if they have to work hard to figure out something challenging.  They all agreed that the latter is how something will stick with them.  We also asked what this Exodus story would be like if the Pharaoh had said "OK, you can leave” and that was that.  Many saw that the more authentic story in which a decision is hard, the costs and benefits weighed, and a mind changed is often the one that reflects the importance of the decision, the importance of the story, and the time it took to be freed from our bondage after so many years. 
All of this to say, this story we tell in our homes is one of great weight, great dilemmas, and great miracles. Watching it unfold can teach us much about life, ourselves, and our tradition.

Categorized under:  Torah

01/11/2018 04:13 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
I (God) Appeared [to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]
Exodus 6:2−9:35
God spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the Eternal."
The Importance of a Tiny Bush ...

This week brings us many vivid stories from the Passover narrative.  In previous weeks we looked at the early life of Moses and a shift the Hebrews faced from an accepted group descended from a respected family (Jacob, Joseph and his brothers) – to a group that was feared and persecuted.

In the next part of the saga we read about the next phase of the life of Moses, after he is cast out of his favored position as a prince of Egypt.  In this part of our exodus narrative, we experience God speaking to Moses, not as an Angel but as God.  From the famous "burning bush” God speaks to Moses and tells him what he must do to liberate the Hebrews from bondage.

If you had a chance to walk by the APR this week, you may have noticed images of the burning bush all around the room.  In fact, the first theme we looked at was the ability to "notice” things in the world around you.  The rabbis often speak of this encounter with the bush that burned but was "not consumed” as an example of the patience and awareness Moses possessed.  Some would say it was this attribute that drew Moses to God’s attention to take on this special role in our history.  Moses noticed injustice when he defended a Hebrew from being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster.  Moses could have walked right by this ordinary bush, but was so aware of his surroundings that he noticed this peculiar bush was on fire, but was not consumed by it.  The value of awareness – to see injustice, to pick up on the sadness or fear in others, to see the holiness in the ordinary – this is one of the values we can glean from Moses’ encounter with this bush.

In another sense, this encounter was also about a conversation.  In many ways this is the first real conversation between a human and God.  We asked our fourth and fifth grade students to be mindful of that and to think about their own conversations with God – to not ask for things, but to be thankful, to seek inspiration, to seek guidance and understanding.  

From a story about a small bush in the desert – we learn about patience and awareness - and we learn about what it can mean to have a real conversation with God.  A more important bush there may never have been.

Additional Torah Study Resources:
Categorized under:  Torah

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