From Rabbi Hannah: Prior to the Vancouver Women’s March, Words of Inspiration from Parashat Shemot

Words of Inspiration from Parashat Shemot

Prior to the Vancouver Women’s March, Jan. 21, 2017

Touching Base with our Connection to the Source of the Flame that Does Not Consume

In a moment of vulnerability shortly before he was murdered, Dr. King said he was afraid America was losing its moral vision. He said, “I know we will win, but I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”

When asked, “What can we do?” Dr. King answered, “Become the firemen!

And with the rise of this new Pharaoh, don’t we feel the heat of a flame that consumes…

Surely it is ours to transform the flame that is consuming to a flame that does not consume, to overwhelm the forces of destruction with passion for the good. Surely it is ours to shine a light on the beauty of our world, to call attention to divine light burning even in the lowliest scrub of the wilderness, even in the most marginal corners…

This week’s parsha, Shemot, contains compelling images we hold in balance, here, this morning.

photos by Sally Thorne

We’ve gathered to help one another further the work symbolized by the Burning Bush, our call to action, the call to be strong in opposing injustice, however inadequate we might feel. We are deployed by all that is holy to a sacred activism, and the Pharaoh is frightening.

We gather as midwives resisting the Pharaoh, as midwives of Olam Haba, not “The World to Come,” but, rather, the world that is always coming – that we are ushering in, guiding to a healing perfection. It is upon us to break and part waters, and to birth the new.

But even in the face of our powerful callings, we have chosen to pause, these few moments, to reconnect with the source of our inspiration. And Parashat Shemot contains another striking image that has been interpreted to exemplify just this: setting the work of the world aside for the purpose of tuning our own spirits.

This image comes at the beginning of the parsha. After baby Moses is set afloat in his basket, Miriam “places herself a distance away, to know what would happen.” The great Hassidic Master Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev reads this passage with a verse from Jeremiah in mind: “From a distance,” Jeremiah says, “Adonai appeared to me.”

Interweaving the two verses, Levi Yitzchak interprets Miriam’s action as a spiritual one: she distances herself from her most precious worldly responsibility so that, for a moment, she is entirely available to connect with God. She makes space for that connection, stepping away a few paces, keeping her eye on the babe, but taking space…

Levy Yitzchak’s lesson is that we must balance the urgency with which the world needs us to “pray with our feet,” as Heschel taught, and the importance of grounding ourselves in the joy of like-hearted companions, “tuning our instruments,” as Rabbi Zalman Schachter was wont to say. We are, after all, God’s instruments, God’s feet and God’s hands in raising up our world, in transforming the flames that consume to a flame that does not consume, but rather, illuminates, and warms.

Perhaps we gather before the march because the work is hot, and we could get burned.

Perhaps we take this time to check in, huddle, and hold one another, exchange radiant and restorative breath, sing, pray and stand together in silence, because we know that what emboldens and shields us as we reach into the flames of rampant sexism, xenophobia, and greed is our connection to the source of the flame that does not consume.

So let’s look into one another’s eyes and recognize that source, the flame of divinity that burns in each of us, midwives opposing the Pharaoh’s decree birthing resistance, breaking and parting waters, crossing to a far shore of hope.

Rabbi Hannah Dresner

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