Beshalah (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.

How did all the different cultures of the world come to be? Why did they develop the rituals and traditions, songs and stories that have evolved within each of them so differently over the many hundreds and even thousands of years of their cultural evolution? And in spite of the profoundly different attitudes and perspectives on life and the world that is found in different countries, languages and civilizations, what are the values and attitudes that transcend our differences and ultimately bind us together as part of the same human family?

I think of these questions each time we travel and always come away with an ever-deeper appreciation for the mysteries of life and the fundamental similarities of the human drama.

In nearly every culture on earth there are stories of heroism and courage, of sacrifice of the individual for the larger common good, of struggles for meaning and purpose and a connection with the transcendent oneness of the universe. And inevitably there are stories of the struggle to be free to follow one’s own destiny.

This week as we read the story of our ancestors’ flight from the slavery of Egypt and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds to freedom, we are reminded that in Jewish tradition “freedom” is one of God’s most precious and essential names. “There are 70 names for God” the rabbis taught in the Talmud, and after “Creator” perhaps the most powerful of all is “Redeemer.”

The story of our collective redemption is couched in language that tells the story as a drama of faith, commitment and perseverance. Our ancestors were redeemed from slavery not by way of a magic carpet ride or a Star Trek like beaming up from Cairo to Jerusalem, but rather by the difficult, painstaking effort of putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time with enough faith to step into the sea and trust that the waters would part and freedom would be ours.

In every generation and in every culture throughout the world we are called upon to reaffirm that same faith in the essential promise of God’s freedom. Everyone seeks to be free. Everyone longs for the privilege of taking that same journey even when it is difficult and challenging.

So no matter how far any of us might travel around the world, it’s important to still remember that the story of our own people’s struggle from slavery to freedom is a universal drama and we find it echoed in the truths of all people. Every day when we offer prayers of gratitude for the life we live, we are also reaffirming our faith that one day all people everywhere will be able to tell their children as we do each year that once they were slaves and now they are free.

(Check out www.rebreuben.com, www.becomingjewishbook.com and www.interfaithrabbi.com for more commentaries, articles and books by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben).