Friday, February 10, 2017

Parashat BeShallach and Tu B'Shevat

     Shabbat Shalom! This week is Tu B'Shevat, which is a traditionally Kabbalistic festival to celebrate God's presence in the natural world. In a Tu B'Shevat Seder, the Kabbalists walk us through four worlds, which correlate with a different emanation of God, a different season of our ecological world, and each is represented by a different kind of fruit (those with inedible outsides, those with inedible insides, and those which are wholly edible - in the last world we eat no fruit but take special note of our other senses alight at the Seder).
     The first world is Assiyah, Doing. This Shabbat's Parashat HaShavua is Beshallach, the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. Our Torah tells us that when faced with the sea, the Egyptian army catching up with the Israelites, Moses prayed to God and God asks Moses what the heck he's doing praying because it is time to act. Our sages tell us that the sea didn't really part until Nachshon walked all the way into the sea up to his nose. Nachshon is not meant to be a leader, he bears no formal responsibility for the Israelites, but damned if he's going to stand around and wait for someone else to act. Each one of us must know when it is time to act, to take a first step on our own, to Do. In the world of Assiyah, may we be Nachshon, walking right into seas of uncertainty up to our noses, prepared for danger, for the sake of freeing our people.
     The second world is Yetzirah, Formation. In Bereshit, when God created the world, God separated the waters from the earth and sky on the second day, and separated the waters of the earth from the dry land on the third. As the Children of Israel walked through the Sea of Reeds on dry land, the water standing up on all sides of them, they had a glimpse of creation, of the formation of the world, of the great and mysterious power of nature. In the world of Yetzirah, may we take note of nature, reflecting on the waters and dry lands that make up our Earth, and pledge to protect both.
      The next world is Briyah, Creation. This Shabbat is also called Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song, because of the songs the Israelites sang as they crossed the sea, and because the Haftarah for this parasha is the story of Deborah, a great judge and prophetess whose prophesies led to an important military victory which she celebrated with a song. In the world of Briyah, may we acknowledge the importance of our creative powers, how art, literature and music can move our souls to do great things, how they guide us through difficult tasks, how they help us process complex emotions.
      The final world is Atzilut, Nobility. Although the Ten Commandments are given in the next parasha, Parashat BeShallach does include a commandment to honor Shabbat. Even in all their wanderings through the wilderness, they must keep camp for the whole of the seventh day. The Israelites, the mixed multitudes, and the animals alike must rest on the Sabbath. Rabbi Heschel referred to Shabbat as a "Sanctuary in time," reiterating a more ancient idea that Shabbat is a small portion of paradise. "The Sabbath," he said, "is the day on which we learn the art of surpassing civilization." In the infinite world of Aztilut, alongside God's ineffable nobility, may we give thanks for Shabbat, for our communities, for any breaks we allow ourselves from the outside world.
Chag hailanot Sameach!

No comments: