by: Alyssa Goodeaux
Most of my life has been a string of events that shaped the foundation of who I am. These events were all-encompassing, trying to a great extent, and completely out of my control. Life was something of an event that I figured out how to survive in. It wasn’t until many years later, apart from those circumstances, that I could look back on my journey and see clearly what had been happening and how truly important all of the good, bad, and ugly were for where I am going.
There’s a neat idea that if you go back to the Torah portion told on the weekly Sabbath of your birthday, you can gain profound insight into your life. While this isn’t an end-all be-all to existence, the story that I resonate with most in Scripture does directly relate with the portion related to my birthday: Beshalach (Exodus 13:17–17:16).
This is the telling of His people, rescued from Egypt, going through the dessert and how they carried that out. While constantly being cared for, despite all they had been through, they were in a state of raw survival and from less than kind circumstances – and anything but gracious to Abba for being cared for. As we His children do, there were requests, defiance, and complaints. It’s what I think of as the period of transformation and transition for them and what I now can identify with in my own story.
Waiting in my own Egypt was more than a period of passivity that can be mistakenly associated with the word “waiting.” Waiting in my own Egypt was absolutely necessary preparation for where He leads me today. If you’ve been in Torah observant circles long enough, you’ve heard the coined phrase that there are only two periods of the year: the festivals and waiting for the festivals. “Waiting” for the festivals means lots of background planning. You don’t wait for the festival to come to start putting money aside or deciding where to go and who with and all the details that have to be addressed to properly carry out His will. In the same way, waiting became an intense period of preparation and especially one of building emuna.
Emuna means faith, faithfulness, and is closely related to “being sturdy or firm,” but not of oneself – being faithful and firm in Abba.
Even at a time when I barely understood who He really is, I would find myself desperately seeking Him for salvation from a situation that seemed hopeless. The reality is, I was being tempered into unshakable faith because what was inescapable before changed as my relationship with Him changed. After He drew me out and separated me, over time, I was able to recognize how His hand had been on my life all along, gently but consistently pushing me forward.
G‑d said to Moses: “Why do you cry out to Me?
Speak to the children of Israel, that they should go forward” (Ex. 14:15)
As they stood at the shore of the sea, the people of Israel split into four factions. One faction said: “Let us cast ourselves into the sea.” A second faction said, “Let us return to Egypt.” A third said, “Let us wage war against the Egyptians.” A fourth said, “Let us cry out to G‑d.” Thus Moses said to the people: “Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of G‑d, which He will show you today. For as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again anymore, forever. G‑d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent” (14:13–14).
To those who said, “Let us cast ourselves into the sea,” he said: “Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of G‑d.” To those who said, “Let us return to Egypt,” he said: “As you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again anymore, forever.” To those who said, “Let us wage war against them,” he said: “G‑d shall fight for you.” And to those who said, “Let us cry out to G‑d,” he said: “And you shall be silent.”
These “four factions” represent four possible reactions to a situation in which one’s divinely ordained mission in life is challenged by the prevalent reality.One possible reaction is: “Let us cast ourselves into the sea.” Let us submerge ourselves within the living waters of Torah; let us plunge into the “sea of the Talmud,” the sea of piety, the sea of religious life. Let us create our own insular communities, protecting us and ours from the G‑dless world out there.
At the other extreme is the reaction, “Let us return to Egypt.” Let us accept “reality,” recognizing that it is the Pharaohs who wield the power in the real world. We’ll do whatever we can under the circumstances to do what G‑d expects from us, but it is futile to imagine that we can resist, much less change, the way things are.
A third reaction is to “wage war against them”—to assume a confrontational stance against the hostile reality, battling the “unG‑dly” world despite all odds.
A fourth reaction is to say: It’s wrong to abandon the world, it’s wrong to succumb to it and it’s wrong to fight it. The answer lies in dealing with it on a wholly spiritual level. A single prayer can achieve more than the most secure fortress, the most flattering diplomat or the most powerful army.
G‑d rejected all four approaches. While each of them has their time and place (it’s important to create inviolable sancta of holiness in a mundane world; it’s also necessary to appreciate the nature of the prevalent reality and deal with it on its own terms; it’s also necessary to wage an all-out war against evil; and it’s always important to recognize that one cannot do it on one’s own and to appeal to G‑d for help)—none of them is the vision to guide our lives and define our relationship with the world we inhabit.
Rather, when the Jew is headed toward Sinai and is confronted with a hostile or indifferent world, his most basic response must be to go forward.
Not to escape reality, not to submit to it, not to wage war on it, not to deal with it only on a spiritual level, but to go forward. Do another mitzvah, ignite another soul, take one more step toward your goal.
And when you move forward, you will see that insurmountable barrier yield and that ominous threat fade away. You will see that the prevalent “reality” is not so real after all, and that you have it within your power to reach your goal. Even if you have to split some seas to get there.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
I know I’m not alone in my journey. We all have beautiful, raw, and heartbreaking testimonies of trials we have had to go through to get to where we are.
If you’re going through one now, I pray you take heart and make yourself firm in His constant assurance and presence. Your life is a beautiful work of art with careful, decisive purpose for His will. As we wrestle with being the best parent we can be and sanity, balancing the necessity of work and spending time with our families, and navigating the waters of being Torah observant with family that challenges that, I pray that you move forward one step at a time, trusting that He has never left you in any of it. While the first steps can feel and look scary, you’re walking right into Abba’s arms by letting go and allowing the state of preparation to happen. The moment you allow His Spirit to work in you freely is the moment that He wins anything standing in the way.
To find out your birthday Torah portion: