Hineini! “Here I am!”

So, I know it has been a minute since I have posted on here, but as you can see from the above family picture, we have a new little lady on the way, and life has been a bit hectic. However, I have been writing some Divrei Torah that I would like to share. These upcoming posts might be a bit more formal and “academic” than some of my former posts, but this is where I am at on my journey right now, so I appreciate the readership!

The first post will be from Parshah Beshalach, which was the Parshah only a couple of weeks ago. I will then post some thoughts on Parshah Yitro (last week’s portion), and then go from there.

I have received some feedback about the wish to contact me. If you wish to reach out, please feel free to e-mail me at joshgraymusic@gmail.com and I will answer you as soon as possible. Any thoughts, comments, or suggestions for topics are welcome.

I have missed all of you very much, and I look forward to getting back to sharing with you.

“In our very own Reform Siddur, Mishkan T’Filah, page 39 tells us, “That the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness.” What is the promise that the Jewish people have sojourned through countless wildernesses, both literal and figurative, for? Is it simply the literal nation of Israel, or could it also be the promise of better moments; todays and tomorrows, if we strive to live our lives with a bit of hope and song in our hearts? We are called to remember the tribulations and sacrifices of those who came before us, and to enjoy the beautiful song-filled moments as they occur.

In this week’s Parshah, Beshalach, G-d has finally led the Israelites out of Egypt, beginning the long trek toward the promised land of Canaan. G-d did not direct the children of Israel to take the easiest and most direct route, however. Instead of passing directly through the land of the Philistines, the Israelites were instructed by G-d to wander toward the Red Sea and through the wilderness. According to Hertz’s commentary, if the people of Israel had passed through the land of the Philistines, they could have arrived in Canaan in only 11 days. As many of us know, the roundabout way took 40 years; with many of these years being quite trying.

The Jewish people have historically been tried and tested, but we have always survived and endured. Even after years of enslavement, Torah tells us that, “The children of Israel went out with a high hand” (Ex. 14:8). In other words, The Jews left Egypt after centuries of enslavement with an aura of fearless confidence in spite of less-than-desirable circumstances. The Jews were delivered from Egypt, and guided along an indirect path, even finding themselves between a charging army of 600 chariots, and a vast Sea of Reeds. While many people were questioning G-d while standing at the shore of the sea, “Moses stretched forth his hand…” (Ex. 14:27) and the Jews crossed on dry land.

The Jews crossed the Sea and immediately sang with joy the “Song at the Red Sea,” or “The Song.” We still sing part of that song, “Mi Chamochah,” on every Erev Shabbat to this day, which ends with the phrase “Adonai Yimloch L’olam Vaed,” or “The Lord shall reign forever and ever.” According to the Sefer Ha-Aggadah, and Rabbi Meir specifically, every child of Israel sang The Song after crossing, including the fetuses that were still in their mother’s wombs. Even those who were not yet born were able to sense the Divine Presence of the moment. It is vital that we take time to sing the joy that is in our hearts, as song can be so powerful, and can often convey what the spoken word struggles to communicate. In the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva claims that the controversial scriptural book “Song of Songs,” authored by King Solomon, is the “holy of holies.” Singing and rejoicing enriches moments.

It is also important that we remember that the victory of Israel was not complete, due to the suffering that the Egyptians endured. A medieval rabbi reminds us that during the Pesach Seder, when a drop of wine is removed from the cup at the mention of each plague, we are reminding the People Israel that our own cup of joy cannot be entirely full while others suffer (Hertz, p. 270). It is our responsibility as modern Jews to remember the role of the Egyptians. Beshalach teaches us how G-d showed His nature by sheltering the righteous Israelites and destroying the unrighteous Egyptians. G-d used the hardened heart of the Pharaoh to show the world that a righteous G-d indeed exists.

When the Jews continued to journey into the wilderness, thirst and hunger eventually set in, and many still questioned G-d’s will, even after witnessing the miracle at the Red Sea. After deliverance from Egypt, an oceanic miracle of vast proportions, and a song of utmost joy, the work was still not done—just as the journey of the Jew is never complete. We are a people who must rely on resilience, and embrace taking on new challenges, often avoiding the easiest and most direct path. The destination is often the journey, and we can remember to sing when we feel joy, but never take pleasure in the suffering of others. We can strive to live our own lives with an eye toward improving the future of our world and people, while never forgetting our past, and those who came before us. The path will not always be smooth and clear, but the path, no matter how unsteady, is our promise as Jews. As our own Mishkan T’Filah reminds us, “The Exodus lasted a moment, a moment enduring forever. What happened once upon a time happens all the time” (Mishkan T’Filah, p. 45).  

May we all be blessed to sing and rejoice when the heart calls for it, remember with solemnity and respect when we must, and continue wandering through the wilderness of our modern world with a sense of purpose, and a “high hand” of fearless confidence that is all our own.”

Shalom,

Joshua

Published by Joshua Gray

I am Joshua Gray. I am a husband, father, not-for-profit-worker by day, and a former professional actor/singer. I am very active in the Jewish community in my area, helping to teach at religious school on Sundays, while also serving on the board of trustees at my local temple. My relationship with Judaism is a joy of mine, and I find great pleasure in studying texts and learning more and more Hebrew. I still enjoy warbling tunes, and I even got to sing the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, which was a definite highlight. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas for topics, conversations, or general inquiries. Shalom!

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