SERMON FOR PARASHAT BESHALACH JANUARY 27, 2018
There may be some words missing from this week’s parasha.
Then again, there may not be.
As the people stand desperately in front of the sea with the Egyptian army closing in, God says to Moses: Mah Titzak Alay: Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. Lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it.
The question about missing words comes down to this. God says: “Why do you cry out to me?” but we see no evidence of Moses crying out to God.
Some commentators have argued that the Torah omitted Moses’ prayer because it showed a desperation or anger that was not appropriate for Moses. But, there are two other possibilities that would see this story as being complete without the words of any prayer of Moses.
First, in the verses before God’s words, Moses gives a short speech to the people which ends with these words: Adonai Yilachem Lachem: God will battle for you; hold your peace.
So, perhaps God is saying to Moses: “Why do you cry out about me?”, not necessarily to me. God would be interpreting Moses’ expression of faith in the divine as an indirect plea for God to act.
The other, and in my mind, more convincing interpretation is that not all cries to God are audible. Moses might have engaged in silent prayer at this time, pleading with God for help.
But any way you read this, God is having none of it. He tells Moses to act instead of praying, aloud or silently. The Midrash goes further.
One interpretation from the Talmudic tractate of Sotah says that Moses was taking too long praying and God said to him: “Yidedai Tovim Bayam v’atah ma’arich batifila, my children are drowning in the sea and you are saying a long prayer?” Apparently the people were also impatient with Moses’ prayer and were trying to escape through the sea. No one, except Moses, saw this as a time for lengthy prayer.
Then, there is another midrash, this one from Vayikra Rabbah, which contains one of my favorite expressions in any piece of rabbinic literature. God says to Moses; if you don’t do something, no one will do it, concluding with this beautiful phrase: Ayn Hasha’ah mitzapah elah lach, the hour waits only for you. Everything is set, God says, for salvation: “This moment is in your hands. Act.”
God tells Moses that he has the power to find a path forward for these people. Enough talk. Enough prayer. Enough delays. Clear the path for the people.
As all of us have watched the give and take and the frustrating, lengthy, verbose to say the least, discussions that have taken place in Washington DC over the last few weeks. Much of that has focused on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which offered a path to citizenship for children of those who entered our country illegally but who have grown up here, many not knowing any other home.
The plan which was rescinded by the Trump Administration is viewed favorably by the vast majority of Americans according to polls and has enabled so many young people, called dreamers, to achieve their dreams of an education and employment, benefitting them and our nation greatly.
The immigration debate is a serious one and I acknowledge that there are many sides. But, about this there should be no debate. DACA is not only advantageous for those dreamers, it is also just plain right.
Our Rabbinical Assembly and many other Jewish organizations have supported this act with the hope that a path to citizenship can be cleared for these individuals. This reflects the spirit of our nation’s dedication to immigrants and reflects the memory of our own family stories of immigration.
It is right.
God says: “This isn’t the time for lengthy prayer. It isn’t the time for lengthy deliberation and vague promises about what I can do. It’s time to act and the hour waits for you.”
As congress deliberates and shuts down the government and as the president vacillates, saying one thing one day and one thing the next or tying DACA to significant cuts in immigration and as all of the discussions drone on, the lives of so many young people hang in the balance. While they are not drowning in the sea, until the path ahead is clear, they stand desperate for hope.
The hour waits only for you, God said to Moses.
I think it’s time for all of us to say those same words to the leadership of congress and the president.
Too many lives lie in the balance while you engage in lengthy words.
It’s time to clear a path forward.
But, there will be no divine miracle. It is in their hands.