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Linking the Generations - B'shalach (Exodus 13:17−17:16)
01/26/2018 11:46 AM Posted by: David Cohen

B'shalach
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:

ReformJudaism.org Torah Study /

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

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