Sunday, January 25, 2015

From Blame to Faith (Portion Beshallach)

Last week, a conservative friend sent me an article by Dennis Prager lamenting the results of a debate at Oxford University over the proposition: “Hamas is a greater obstacle to peace than Israel.”  (to see the article, go to:

Like Prager, I am a strong supporter of the state of Israel; I, too, take issue with the majority of Oxford students who, apparently, believe that the Jewish state poses a more significant threat than Hamas.

But I despair even more over the topic of this debate than its results.  Wouldn’t we all be better served if the world’s foremost university spent more time trying to find creative solutions to the Middle East conflict than assigning blame?  Even if the discussion had turned out to be strongly supportive of Israel, wouldn’t it have been more productive to harness all that brainpower toward moving forward?

In her commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Beshallach, Rabbi Yael Shy laments the way we tend to respond to fearful situations with anger and blame.  She points to this all-too insightful cartoon from the New Yorker:

So, too, in the parshah: we stand at the shore of the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army rapidly approaching.  There’s no going forward, no going back—and so we complain and cast blame, lambasting Moses: “What is this you have done to take us out of Egypt?  Isn’t this the very thing about which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone, and we will serve the Egyptians, because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert.’”

To his great credit, Moses responds by keeping his cool and insisting that there is a way out of the crisis that the Israelites do not yet recognize.  “Don’t be afraid,” he assures them, “stand firm and see the Holy One’s liberation work for you today, for the way you have seen the Egyptians is only today, but you shall no longer continue to see them for eternity.  The Eternal will fight for you.”  In other words, as Rabbi Shy points out, Moses is telling them not to surrender to their panic, imploring them to  hold still (and silent) a little longer than is comfortable.  He is offering a new perspective, a widening of vision and hope that is an antidote to their fear and stuck-ness.

From Jerusalem to Oxford to Boise, in difficult times, our default wiring leads us into the arena of blame and complaint.  But, as Torah reminds us, to be human is to be able to override those reactions and, instead, employ patience, faith, and wisdom to seek more productive paths.  Our cartoon to the contrary, the important thing, really, is to focus on where we’re headed from here.

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