Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail rebiyosil@earthlink.net

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Shemot (Exodus) 13:17-17:16
Haftorah - Judges 4:4-5:31

LESSON FROM THE RED SEA: Overcoming Spiritual Paralysis

At some point in our lives, faced with an unexpected situation, we encounter a moment when we freeze. I can't move! What next? I must act, we say. But exactly what should I do? The same situation faced Moshe and the Children of Israel when they were at the edge of the Red Sea.

In front of them, they faced the sea with the certainty of drowning if they were to enter it. Behind them was a huge Egyptian force with the latest armaments, pursuing them to re-enslave them and even to kill them. We are really doomed, they thought.

What to do next? Well, what would you do pray? Yes, that's exactly what Moshe did. How do we know? Because Rashi explains, citing the Michilta, that Hashem says to Moshe Shemot 14:15): It is no time to prolong in prayers; move on forward. But what was Moshe crying to Hashem about? The Ramban (Nachmanides), with his incisive analysis of the text, points out to us that Moshe, knowing that Hashem was going to be honored for His miracles against Pharaoh, was asking Hashem what exactly to do. Hashem answers him very simply: “Move on forward.”

Just as our ancestors discovered, there are clearly times when we reach a critical turning point, and we freeze. We are looking for meaning and/or spirituality; we are looking for fulfillment; we are looking to make sense of our lives. What next? The answer is not to be frightened by what is behind us, but to move forward.

Indeed, it can be said that we all have enemies pursuing us, freezing us, preventing us from moving forward. And these fears and trepidations paralyze us into indecision and inaction on many fronts.

Some of us don't get involved in a spiritual or religious question; we deny ourselves meaningful involvement and growth, because we once had a bad experience. And so we resist revisiting the situation. It is what is known as the problem of initiation. It often comes from a lack of skills or abilities. Sometime it is the result of a lost or denied opportunity. In medical, clinical terms, difficulty with initiation can result after a physical illness, thus requiring rehabilitation and various forms of therapy. But in most cases, with the right instruction and encouragement, it can be overcome. The paralysis need not persist indefinitely. Some don't try to learn Hebrew after Bar/Bat Mitzvah because they are embarrassed by their paucity of knowledge. Some don't seek rabbinical advice anymore because they didn't like the answers they once received. Some don't help others and desist from communal involvements, because they don't understand or like how the Jewish federations work.

One bad experience, and certain people decide to opt out of organized Jewish life. One has to question/consider the depth and thickness of such commitment. All these are rationalizations for not doing the right thing. Perhaps, then, it is time for a novel kind of rationalization: a rationalization to do the right thing move forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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