BY RABBI LOREN LAPIDUS / AJT //
As the mother of a 20-month-old toddler, I often find myself faced with unexpected tears the minute my daughter is told she cannot have the thing for which she has asked. Whether it is an orange or my iPhone, there are times when her desires are not met, and – like any toddler – she often responds by crying.
This is, according to the parenting books, a very normal response. She is trying to assert her autonomy and learning to ask for what she wants and needs. While we, her parents, are quick to respond to her needs, we do not always agree with her as to her wants, hence the tears.
With time, she will start to respond a little more rationally…so the books say!
This week’s Torah portion introduces us to our ancestors who, new to freedom from slavery, exhibit behavior that is a little like a toddler’s. The Israelites leave Egypt and, in the act of crossing the Red Sea, begin to create a national identity and experience. They are starting to assert their autonomy and find their way.
On four different occasions in Parashat Beshalach, we see the Israelites respond negatively to adverse circumstances. At the shores of the Sea, they panic because the waters have not yet parted; after crossing into the wilderness, they complain because the water is bitter; they grumble because there is no meat; and finally, they cry out because of a lack of water.
Each time, they lash out at Moses, suggesting they were better off staying in Egypt. Moses, in return, cries out to G-d, and G-d responds through Moses to show that the people have not been abandoned, to reassure them and to provide for their needs.
While we can give the Israelites some slack – they are new to freedom and Moses’ leadership, after all, and are still developing an ever-increasing faith in G-d – there remains plenty to learn in this portionabout responding to adversity.
At this early stage in their nationhood, each time our ancestors faced something they did not understand, felt fear or uncertainty, they chose to respond with panicked and angry challenges to Moses and G-d. But over time, our ancestors developed a better sense of resilience and a better relationship with G-d. The panicked “tantrums” eventually subsided as trust in Moses and G-d increased.
Now, just as our ancestors had to, each of us when faced with challenging circumstances has to make a choice about how we will respond. Will we complain the minute we do not have exactly what we want, like the Israelites in this parsha (or my daughter)?
When we are faced with uncertainty, will we panic? If we face dire circumstances, will we respond with a challenge to God’s authority?
This Torah portion is a reminder that we should make a choice to live out the best within us in the face of challenges. It is tempting to come apart, to wring our hands and ask “why me?” And, at times of serious circumstances, there needs to be space for that emotional response.
The next step, though, is to recognize our blessings: the blessings of family and friends, of community and of faith. With time, we can gain perspective and seek meaning and connection to others.
When we reach within ourselves and respond with faith and courage – when we share trust beyond ourselves – we utilize our strength and develop our resilience.
Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus serves The Temple and is a member of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.