Lizz is with IfNotNow DC.
At IfNotNow’s #ResistAIPAC action a few weeks ago, we used a lot of Passover imagery. When our friends who had locked themselves against the doors of the convention center were escorted away from the building, we split a Sea of Reeds for them to walk through. We told the story of Nachshon, a midrash of a man who walked into the Sea right up to his nose before the Sea split, leading the people of Israel away from Egypt in a braver and more direct way than even Moses. We sang Mi Chamocha — the words of the Song of the Sea — on Sunday and Monday, at two separate actions.
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be free. To lead a fearful people away from a comforting familiarity toward an uncertain future, which may be more liberated but which may also require a lot of emotional labor. IfNotNow is committed to being like Nachshon, to walking into the waters of uncertain freedom, and to swimming if necessary to an intersectional liberation. We believe in a Jewish community that is truly ready for freedom and dignity for all.
Now we are in the throes of Pesach, and our Chol HaMoed reading for today depicts life after the Israelites have crossed that sea and reached freedom from the Egyptians, only to find that life in the wilderness is also difficult. In this reading, a frustrated Moses, tired of defending the Unknowable to the whiny Israelites, and vice versa, asks to see God’s face. God tells Moses that no man may see the face of God and live, so God instructs Moses to wait in a cleft in a rock — a narrow place — to wait for God to pass by, so that the Divine Goodness will be visible to Moses in passing. We may have left Mitzrayim, the land of Egypt, which Jewish mystics consider derived from the word for “narrow straits”. But the work of building freedom and breaking out of narrow spaces is not done.
There is the narrow pathway of the dry space between the walls of the Sea of Reeds to walk through. There is the narrow space in the cliff face in which Moses nestles himself waiting for a glimpse of Divinity. There are many years wandering in the desert. There is fear. There is thirst and hunger. There is uncertainty about this Unknowable, Unseeable force. There is fighting, both within the community and with external forces. But there is also freedom. There is dignity. There is a taste of holiness, and a new peoplehood born.
Our Haftarah for this portion comes from Ezekiel, a prophet in exile in Babylonia, praying for the revival of a seemingly dead and cut-off people. So many in the institutional Jewish world worry about what they see as a dwindling population of involved young Jews, and pray for the revival of Jewish life. After hearing IfNotNow rabbis, rabbinical students, and other observant/traditional members lead the shacharit service during the protests outside AIPAC recently, I feel very confident that our Jewish community is plenty lively. I believe in our ability to lead the people forward.
There is a lot of hard work ahead before we will see a liberated world with freedom and dignity for all. But we’re ready to leave Mitzrayim. We ARE leaving Mitzrayim, this narrow place of feeling enslaved by historical trauma and the ever-looming threat of antisemitic violence. We are crossing the Sea of Reeds, navigating carefully through a narrow space that seeks to silence our anti-Occupation voices. We are stepping out from that cleft in the rock, the safe-feeling narrow space where we thought we might catch a glimpse of the Unknowable. We are raising our dry bones from the justice-starved, peace-parched earth and reviving Jewish commitments toward tzedek and tikkun olam, justice and the repair of the world. We are leading our community toward the future, a future of freedom and dignity for all, and we will look back on the crucial moments like this year’s mass mobilization against AIPAC, and we will know we were on the right side of history.
Will you leave Mitzrayim with us? Will you cross that narrow sea? Will rise up? When you look back on history, which side will you see yourself on? Which side are you on?