Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
(When He Sent)
The Israelites cross the Red Sea and celebrate with song and dance. They are sent on their journey and given manna for sustenance which appears daily. If one takes more than he can consume that day, it rots and turns wormy. The Israelites receive Shabbat. They start complaining.
IN BESHALLACH WE ARE SENT on a journey of purification. The path seems impossibly circuitous, doubling back on itself, spiraling around and through every place of darkness within us — untangling the residual knots of our enslavement. We must take with us the bones of Joseph.(Exodus 13:19) The Hebrew word for bones also means “essence.” As we journey forth we carry the essence of our lineage, the bare bones of wisdom which we will flesh out with our own experience.
Our blessing is the wilderness, the landscape that will allow us to recreate ourselves in the image of freedom! The journey will call forth all of our strength and reveal every flaw. This is the kind of blessing that Ram Dass calls, “Fierce Grace.” It begins in miracle as we walk on dry land in the midst of the sea.
Thus every spiritual journey begins. In the midst of the turbulence of this world, and in spite of our fear, we somehow find the courage to take one loving focused step and then another, with each step finding our footing on a path that only reveals itself step by step. But we DO it! We don’t let the fear stop us. We cross into the wilderness leaving behind the safety of slavery — a life of conditioned response.
WE CELEBRATE THE MIRACLE of this crossing with a song and a dance that become the force of “sending” (beshallach). The power of the song and the magic of the dance propel us into the wilderness. The song lays out a formula for Salvation. My strength, “Ozi,” and the Song of God, “ve-zimratYah,” will be my salvation.(Exodus 15:2) The blessing of Beshallach comes in the balance of these two aspects.
Ozi is the force of will that I bring to this crossing — the place inside me that desires freedom and truth, and will do anything for its attainment. Ve-zimratYah is the part of me that knows how to surrender, that opens to the rhythm and melody of God’s Song and gives itself unconditionally to “what is.” The blessing comes in the balance of will and surrender.
With too much will, I isolate myself from the flow of Divine Grace that moves the world. With too much surrender, I become passive and abdicate my responsibility for full partnership with God in the work of Liberation. Too much will or surrender, and I might have drowned in the sea. In the marriage of my strength of will and a surrender to the God-song, the sea of confusion splits open and the dry land appears beneath my feet.
THIS INTERNAL BALANCE of will and surrender comes to us slowly through practice and by learning from our mistakes. The blessing of Manna and the blessing of Shabbat are given to us as practices we can use to perfect this balancing.
Manna is the miraculous sustenance that is given to us each day. I may only gather what I can eat this day. If the force of my will grows too strong, it feeds my ambition and I will try to gather more than I can use. I will want to have enough manna for a week, a year, a lifetime, and from the will’s point of view I can never have enough.
When I follow the impulse of ego-driven or fear-based will, all the surplus manna that I have gathered will rot. And so I must learn to gather only what this moment requires. Realizing that ultimately, I am not the one in charge, I surrender in faith to the taste of this day’s bounty. (The Midrash tells us that manna tasted different to each person.)
The will is required in order to gather in sustenance and distribute it justly in our world. That force of will in us must be continually strengthened and refined. And on the sixth day we gather in a double portion in preparation for Shabbat, the day of surrender. The blessing of Shabbat is given to us as a practice of re-balancing and of integrating the gifts that we have been given.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
AFTER THE MIRACLE OF OUR CROSSING, we journey for three days into the wilderness and our thirst begins to plague us. The waters that we find here are bitter. Our resistance to stepping into the void disguises itself as complaining and rebellion. We are tasting the bitter waters that have accumulated inside us during the years of slavery. This is the place in us that is in the most need of healing and purification.
DURING THE COURSE of a week-long retreat, it takes about three days for “normal” consciousness to drop away, for the cluttered mind to begin to clear, for the body to release its rigid posturing. Then I am confronted with whatever bitterness that has accumulated inside me.
That bitterness might be projected on outer circumstance. “The food is terrible.” “My bed is too soft.” “My back hurts.” “The teacher isn’t very clear.” “Perhaps this isn’t my practice after all.” “I’ll never do it right.” “I should just go back home, this isn’t for me.”
Beshallach sends us to our own bitterness that we might be healed. In order for this healing to occur, we must acknowledge the bitter murmurings and compassionately yet firmly set them aside, making room for Moses, our capacity for wisdom, to act. God shows him a tree, which Moses then throws into the bitter waters, rendering them sweet. The spiritual challenge of Beshallach is the sweetening of our own bitter waters. If those waters are not sweetened, they will poison us, and sell us back into slavery. (“I’m going back home, this isn’t right for me.”)
THE TREE THAT MOSES USES to sweeten the waters is the Tree of Life. Whatever bitterness we carry (difficult memories, regrets, grudges, or disappointments), will be transformed when touched by this tree. So what does it mean to cast the Tree of Life into our pool of bitterness?
The Tree of Life has its roots in Heaven and its branches spread out into our lives. It is the bridge connecting the infinite mystery with this finite seemingly imperfect world. When I take hold of that tree, I am touching the truth of my connection to the Source of all Life. In touching that tree I connect myself with all of Creation.
When I can grasp that perspective, I can understand that my small pool of bitterness is only a drop in the ocean of the great being that we are together. My fixation on that small drop is what makes the water seem bitter to me. As the Tree of Life expands my perception, the spiritual challenge is to let go of the drop and become an ocean, vast and sweet. This is the healing that God-consciousness brings. “I am YHVH who heals you” — from the disease of feeling separate and abandoned.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
There are two practices for Beshallach.
The Song of Celebration
We have all made miraculous crossings in our lives. Recall a time when you took a leap of faith, when you took a chance and crossed over into a new way of being in the world. Remember a time when you left the slavery that you knew and set out into the unknown. If you made a crossing and did not stop to celebrate, to sing your own Song of the Sea, and to call the women out to dance with their timbrels, then you have not been properly “sent.”
This song of celebration isn’t optional. It is necessary to the journey. This song will carry us into the wilderness. This dance will energize us for the journey.
BRING YOURSELF BACK TO A MOMENT of miracle that was not fully acknowledged. It is not too late.
HONOR YOUR CROSSING with a song of praise, a dance, a poem, an offering. Share it with a Spirit Buddy. (Note: See the Spirit Buddies page for an explanation of this aspect of the practice.)
The Practice of Manna
Manna teaches us to appreciate what is before us without reaching for what is next.
PRACTICE AN EATING MEDITATION by creating a special meal for yourself and eating it slowly, in silence, one bite at a time, savoring its gift of flavor and texture and nourishment.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE SOURCE OF THIS FOOD with blessing and trust each bite to bring you complete satisfaction before reaching for the next bite.
GATHER IN THE MANNA, the miracle of this food through your concentration on the sensations of smelling, tasting, chewing, and swallowing. Slow the whole process down so you can notice everything about the food and your capacity to enjoy and be satisfied.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.