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Beshallah 5782 - God's Saving Power

January 15, 2022 - 13 Sh'vat, 5782

Rabbi Feivel often tells a personal story of God’s saving power: When Rabbi Feivel was six years old, he woke up in the middle of the night, walked into his brother’s room, and climbed into bed. His brother, thankfully, was sleeping over at a friend’s house. Normally, Rabbi Feivel was the kid who slept through everything, but tonight felt different. Rabbi Feivel later woke up to his parents crying; an earthquake had hit, and a big, heavy armoire had fallen and crushed the bed in his room, the bed where he usually slept! That night, the Rubinstein family witnessed God’s salvation - in an instance of what Rabbi Feivel recognizes today as divine intervention, God saved his life by leading him into his brother’s room.

I have heard similar stories from some of you, instances of near misses and total awe that you have described as encounters with God. While some of us have experienced God’s salvation through those particular moments in time, others have experienced it as the way that God and Jewish community have saved our every-day lives. 

When we pray at home and in community, our liturgy repeats that concept of God as savior. Today’s parashah gives us just some of that language, as it introduces the song the Israelites sing as they cross the Sea of Reeds on dry land:

וישע ה׳ ביום ההוא את ישראל מיד מצרים

And Adonai saved Israel from the Egyptians on that day (Ex. 14:31)

עזי וזמרת יה ויהי לי לישועה

God (or Yah) is my strength, my song, and my salvation (Ex 15:2)

Other verses speak of God’s redemptive power (גאולה), God’s ability to bring us out of the narrow places of Egypt and of slavery. The 13th-century Ashkenazi commentator Hizkuni teaches that we are to repeat the Song of the Sea each and every day to remember this moment of complete salvation, as had never been seen before. We repeat this song to remember the possibility of God’s salvation at every moment in our lives.

We pray and gather in community largely because we know that God carries that infinite power to save, both with once-in-a-lifetime miracles and with the every-day wisdom God’s Torah provides. We sing Psalms of thanks, and we request miracles from God in our hope and faith in God’s saving power; we wake up and move each day because we know that the momentous power God demonstrated at the Sea of Reeds is possible again. At the same time, for all of the stories I have heard about divine intervention in the form of a moment or two, like at the Sea of Reeds, I have heard even more about the saving power of the gradually increasing presence of God throughout a period in a person’s life.

For many of us, life transitions brought us to God and Judaism - a wedding or b’nei mitzvah, an illness or a death in the family. We discovered Judaism through searching for answers and support in a time of change - we met a rabbi who inspired and supported us, or Jewish life cycle rituals carried us through a tough time. For some, following the structure of observant Jewish life has brought us comfort and stability. Practices like davening three times a day, giving thanks each time we eat, and taking a full twenty-five hours off of work each week can provide constancy in a time or place when all else is unexpected. For others, we first saw the face of God in Jewish community or in Jewish text, in the people we met and the wisdom we learned in a synagogue space. God saved us, too - not just from an earthquake or a fatal fall, but from depression, loneliness, or confusion.

We know that God does not swoop in to save the day for us at every moment we are in need; each of us in this room has experienced tragedy of a different flavor and to a different extent. But we also know that we have the tools to embrace God’s saving power when it does not come raining upon us from above. Through our text, tradition, and Jewish community, we always have access to salvation, if only we ask, search, and practice. As the wise Rabbi Avi Berman wrote about basketball in this week’s Wall Street Journal, “Everything in life involves divine intervention coupled with human agency.” While hope in God is not always enough for an instant miracle, it can be enough to inspire us to take on a practice or reach out to a person who will help us find a solution.

Along with introducing God as our salvior and redeemer, our parashah introduces God as healer:

If you truly obey Adonai your God, and you do what is right in God’s eyes, and you listen to God’s commandments, and you keep all of God’s laws, I will not place upon you all of the illness that I placed upon Egypt, for I am Adonai, your healer (Ex. 15:16). Ki ani Adonai rofekha.

Just as we know that God does not save us instantaneously from every dire situation, we know that God does not heal every illness as soon as it begins. And yet, we also know that with the comfort of our liturgical music, the support of the Jewish community, the wisdom of texts that teach us how to live our lives, and the certainty of ritual practice, we have the tools to work towards healing. Every-day salvation comes through the actions of mitzvot. Although our faith does not demand that we expect divine intervention, it does demand that we search for it and that we express our gratitude when we do experience it. Through prayers of thanksgiving, through acknowledgment of the miracles we have experienced, and through using those miracles towards helping others find their healing and salvation, we have access to God’s saving power each and every day. Shabbat Shalom.

Sun, October 2 2022 7 Tishrei 5783