“We interrupt this program to bring you this special bulletin….” Remember those? And in the days before DVRs,you couldn’t get back what you missed of the show!
This Shabbat, we interrupt your annual Torah reading cycle for a special reading. Instead of moving on to parashat Shemini, we’re going back to the book of Exodus for the 7th day of Passover, and reading about the Israelites’ crossing of the Sea of Reeds. They left their homes a week earlier, took a bit of a circuitous route to the sea, baked the dough that hadn’t had a chance to rise on some rocks, and prepared to leave Mitzrayim, the “narrow places” for the great wilderness that lay ahead.
While Jewish tradition teaches that we were all present at Sinai for matan torateynu, “the giving of the Torah,” I wasn’t there for the crossing of the sea, so I can’t say for sure whether or not it happened according to the text. Could a strong east wind have blown so hard that the seabed truly was dry land? Judging from the gale-force winds I’ve experienced here on Long Island–and the number of times my neighbor’s basketball hoop ends up on the fence–I think it’s entirely possible. Was it simply a very low tide, or is the whole story made up to glorify God? Maybe. And that’s ok.
Jewish views on the divinity of the Torah range from, “No question, Hashem dictated the whole entire Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai,” to “It was written by people in different places and times and redacted by an editor.” I live somewhere in the middle. To me, it’s a human endeavor that’s Divinely inspired, and whether or not the “events” recorded can be proven through archaeology or other means, really doesn’t matter. It’s my (our) story, and I’m sticking with it.
For me, our Sacred Texts both stand alone and inform our lives today. As we emerge from Mitzrayim, from the Passover festival and perhaps from the pandemic narrowness, how will we experience the journey through the sea and into the wilderness of possibilities?