On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Parsha Beshalach – The Ba’al Teshuvas Struggle

 In the Torah portion Beshalach, we read about the Jewish people finally leave Egypt after 210 years of slavery on the 49 day journey towards Mount Sinai.  The sages tell us the significance of the number 49 is that the people were on the 49th level of impurity (50 is the lowest) and they needed to leave at that precise moment before they fell even further.  They also tell us that every day on their journey, they were able to raise themselves 1 level so that when they experienced the revelation of G-d on Mount Sinai, they were pure.

This was the first Ba’al Teshuva movement.

This helps to explain the trials and set backs that they had on their way.  Like most of us, it’s not a direct climb up the ladder.  It’s often two rungs up and one rung down.

One of the more telling moments was at the incident of the Red Sea.  The Jewish people had just left Egypt and were now trapped in between the Sea and the approaching Egyptian army.  They were scared and didn’t know what to do. 

The sages say that the people took 4 different approaches to the situation.

  1. Return to Egyptian slavery
  2. Fight the Egyptian army
  3. Throw themselves into the sea to drown
  4. Pray to G-d for an answer
These 4 methods can be applied to almost any situation that a Ba’al Teshuva faces. 

Let’s say that a client asks to meet us for lunch (our boss is pressuring us to go) and there are no kosher restaurants in the area.  What do we do?

  1. Return to slavery – This could be compared to going to the non kosher restaurant.  Do we abandon our journey towards truth?
  2. Fight – We could argue with our boss and the client for being so spiritually insensitive to put us in such a situation.
  3. Drown – This could be compared to calling in sick that day, losing the client or quitting the job all together.
  4. Pray – While we should always pray for clarity, there comes a time that prolonged prayer doesn’t help and we need to make a decision.
It seems to be that the true answer can be found in the 5th approach that was taken on the shores of the sea.  One brave man, whose name was Nachshon ben Aminadav the prince of the tribe of Judah, started walking alone into the sea.  The Rabbis tell us that when the water reached his nostrils, the sea split.  He didn’t give up.  He didn’t complain.  He kept moving forward and trusted that G-d will present an answer. 

In our example, a comparison action might be to suggest meeting for coffee before hours or a beer after hours (Thank G-d that Starbucks coffee and almost all domestic beer is kosher) and trust that the meeting will end up even better then it would have if you would have went to lunch.  This strategy has helped me through my challenges from both external and internal.  The times that I've been asked to lunch, a Saturday or meeting over the high holidays are many.  The times that I've had my own spirtiual doubts are even more.  The key is to just keep moving forward and trust in G-d.

There’s one other major lesson we can learn from this situation.  Since the first mass Teshuva that we read about during the exodus from Egypt that ended with the open revelation of G-d and Mount Sinai, there has been no mass Teshuva movement until our time. 

Their Teshuva, while flawed and with it’s set backs, ended with bringing G-dliness into this world and the receiving of the Torah.

Our Teshuva, while flawed and with it’s set backs, will G-d willing, end with the brining the ultimate and final redemption with the coming of the righteous Moshiach may he come immediately.

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