Tag Archives: Angels

Our Liberation is Bound Up Together

We read about the Kriat Yam Suf, the splitting of the sea, this past Shabbat, as we also celebrated the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And we did so, as many across the nation continued to march, organize, and protest. When we read of the splitting of the sea, the greatest of all miracles that our people experienced, and the marching, walking, singing, and dancing that took place as we crossed, I can’t help but connect these two images: the image of the marching across a split sea and that of marching for justice and equality.

splitting the seaThere are countless midrashim, rabbinic explanations, that detail the splitting of the sea. These midrashim focuses on the ripple effect – pun intended – that such public actions, and such miracles, can have. The Mechilta says that the roar of the split sea was so loud that it was heard in neighboring countries. Shemot Rabbah says that all waters split, not just those of the sea that the Israelites crossed. As those waters split, so too did the waters of the lakes and wells, and even water in people’s glasses and jars. The impact was felt by those who were not even present.

Midrash focuses further on the actions of the angels during this experience. These celestial beings, who are perfect in the Heavens, wanted to sing and celebrate as the Israelites crossed the split sea. But God stopped them for the Israelites were not yet free, were not yet safe. “How can I let you sing as they fear their lives?”, God challenged the angels. Essentially, God is asking, how can you be content, when others fear for their safety? God is even telling the angels, God’s messengers meant to guide us in God’s path, that they are not superior or holier than we are. We are bound up together. They cannot be content if others are not free.

Lilla Watson, the 1970’s Queensland Aboriginal Activist, reminds us:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Your liberation is bound up with mine. And mine with yours. Our liberation is bound up in one another. And so Midrash Avkir even concludes that the angel Gabriel walked with the Israelites as they crossed the split sea, holding back the water on the right and on the left, and preventing the walls of water from collapsing on them. He could not remain in the Heavens on high, simply relaxing and being content with his life when others feared for theirs. He – an angel of God – marched arm-in-arm, side-by-side, with the Israelites and protected them in their most vulnerable state. He acknowledged that our liberations are bound up together.

So what is our mission, our obligation, our responsibility in 2019, as bigotry against all minorities is on the rise, as hate groups seem to have come out of the sewers and back into daylong? Our mission is to be united against the shared adversity that we face.  Our mission is to not sit and sing while others fear. Our mission is to be angels for each other, to stand united against police brutality, against mass incarceration and a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates people of color, to stand against transphobic and homophobic policies pushed by the White House, to stand up to Islamophobic travel bans and xenophobic policing of immigrants, to unite against a rise in anti-Semitism, to break down walls that are trying to be built to divide us. Our mission is to understand that we are all in this together. And only then, when we all cross that split sea, leaving Mitzrayim, the narrowest places of society behind, can we truly sing and rejoice. Then, and only then, will we all finally be free.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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We Can Help Each Other’s Dreams Come True

The Torah tells us that Jacob’s sons were shepherding their flocks in Shechem so Jacob sent Joseph there to check on them. He went to Shechem but they were not there. The text says that there, he encountered an ish, a certain man, who suggests that they had gone down to Dotan. Joseph instead follows them there. This person is not mentioned again. The individual is so inconsequential that a name isn’t even given for this biblical character. But this person sends Joseph to his brothers, and as a result, also sends him to slavery and to prison, but eventually also to be the second-in-command in Egypt, stocking up on food during years of plenty, and saving the region during years of famine. It is a reminder of how a single person, and a single moment, can have such an impact on where we go in life. The Torah also teaches us that maybe this ish, this man, wasn’t an ordinary man at all. Earlier in Genesis, Abraham sees three men who turn out to be divine beings, Angels, sent as messengers of God. Jacob also wrestles with a man – an ish – who ends up being an angel, a messenger from God, and blesses Jacob by changing his name to Yisrael. Maybe, just maybe, this man in the distance, was also a divine messenger, ensuring that Joseph went on the not-so-straight path that he went on to end up where he ended up. Maybe that person was just an ish – or an isha – an ordinary person, but it is each of us, ordinary people, that have the power to do God’s holy work every day.

Parashat Vayeshev is filled with a ton of dreams, dreams by Joseph, and dreams by the Pharaoh’s steward and baker that Joseph interprets. In the following parasha, Parashat Mikketz, we read of Pharaoh’s dreams. But Joseph’s dreams are that he will be in a position of command. This man – this ish – this angel, this messenger, indirectly sends Joseph on a path to ensure that his dreams will come true. If the angel was not there, Joseph would’ve returned home. But this interaction changes his life, for bad, but eventually for good. This interaction makes his dream come true.

The Babylonian Talmud, in Berachot 57b, teaches that dreams are 1/60 of prophecy. There is a divine element and aspect to every dream we have. Let us then be each other’s angels, divine messengers to help our dreams come true. We can never underestimate how a simple conversation or interaction – or simply asking for directions – can impact the course of one’s lives. May we be each other’s angels. May we help make each other’s dreams come true.

-Rabbi Jesse Olitzky

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