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During rabbinic school I was at the beach in Southern California. I was standing on a pier and saw a young person get caught in the undertow. Each time he tried to get up either a wave knocked him down or the pull of the current and the slipper ocean rocks led to him losing his step. Things look desperate until a woman standing on the shore yelled instructions to him. He followed them and, a few minutes later he was safely on the beach.
This instructions led me to write this piece which, as I sit on my computer at the beginning of Passover, seems more relevant than ever.
Fleeing the Egyptian soldiers, the Israelites came to the Sea of Reeds. They looked across the waters and were terriﬁed that they would soon drown in the currents. Each person stood on the bank alone in fear. With faith that God would protect them one stepped into the waters. The seas parted. The people began to cross on dry ground. Below their feet the sea ﬂoor was slippery with seaweed and rocks and sludge. Step by step they began to walk toward the other shore. Step by step their feet sloshed in the slippery muck. Step by step freedom drew near.
But without warning the tide began to rise. The rocks and the grasses and the muck of the sea bottom were once again covered by the swirling waters. Unable to see where they placed their feet, children began to slip and slide. They lost their balance and were dragged into the currents of the rising waters. Panic spread among those for whom freedom had seemed so close just a moment before. Now all hope had been washed away by the rising waters.
Suddenly a voice from the heavens cried out, “Hold on to each other. And don’t let go.”
The people heard the voice and they understood. They heard the command and they obeyed. Each linked hands With the next and the people were joined as one. Those who had slipped below were pulled to the surface and step by step the human chain began to move forward once again. When one would slip on the unseen rocks, the others would hold that person fast. And together, six hundred thousand of God’s children crossed to safety.
Pharoah’s troops came to the shore of the Sea of Reeds. They too began to cross on the slippery sea bottom. They too suddenly found the seas rising as they were only half way across. They too began to slip and slide and be dragged into the swirling currents. They too heard the voice from the heavens cry out, “Hold on to each other and don’t let go.” They too heard, but they refused to listen. They too heard, but they refused to obey. Instead, each sought to save only oneself. Alone in their struggle, one by one the Egyptians were dragged beneath the waters. One by one these children of God drowned.
Safe on the other shore the people of Israel held on to each other in joy and relief.
We are standing in our own Sea of Reeds.
We can look back and see where we have been but there is no way to return to yesterday.
We look forward and while we know the other shore is there but it remains out of sight.
We see where we are standing at this moment and wish we could hold one another hands but, for now, need to rely upon Zoom.
But even from a distance, even through a screen, we recognize our need to “Hold on to each other. And don’t let go.” We are doing just that and will continue to do so until we are all standing safely on the other shore.