B’shalach greets us with great drama and scope. The Israelites are granted freedom, they cross the Sea of Reeds, sing a song of liberation (mi chamocha) and their journey begins. The great symbolic journey from slavery to freedom begins this week. This is the central metaphor of Judaism, it speaks to all of us, indeed, we are commanded to repeat it in every generation and we ritualize it at the Passover seder.
But to the beginning of the portion we go, to look at a line that, I suggest, relates to each of us. The Israelites are granted freedom and immediately are sent, in 13:18, “round about by way of the wilderness”. No direct route for them, for a variety of reasons. The road to liberation, to freedom, was not to be a straight one, but one by way of the wilderness. It was, like so many of our experiences, a long and winding road.
There is a Yiddish expression, known to many, that sums up, in many ways, this verse and how it relates to our lives. “Mankind plans and God laughs”. Looking back at our life, as we often now do, we can appreciate this verse from Torah and especially this Yiddishism. Our lives have rarely, if ever, been a straight path. I recall when I was ordained and was leaving the seminary about to begin my career. I thought I had it all planned out. My friends and I would sit and discuss how we were going to progress in our careers. Fast forward years later and we all experienced the fact that real life intervened to alter, in some cases radically, our perceived life map.
This portion is the beginning of the Israelite journey. Like us, the will move slowly, alternating between success and failure, celebration and mourning, mistakes and understanding. Just like each of us. As the Fine poem, “Birth Is A Beginning” so clearly states, we move through life in a curious and often unforeseen pattern. How we choose too live and act will determine if it will be, or has been, a “sacred pilgrimage”.
Rabbi Richard F Address