Making Sense of the Sedra: Pesach

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Making Sense of the Sedra: Pesach

The weekly cycle of Torah readings is postponed during Pesach and replaced with ones related to the festival

Passage of the Israelites through the Reed Sea (Ivan Aivazovsky 1891)
Passage of the Israelites through the Reed Sea (Ivan Aivazovsky 1891)

Pesach Day 7 commemorates the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea during the exodus from Egypt. The former Israelite slaves found themselves encamped before Pi-Hahirot – strategically boxed-in between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-Zephon, a mountainous Egyptian deity (Ex 14:2).

Cutting off any possible escape, Pharaoh’s army approached quickly. Ahead was only water. Many called out to God in fear, others complained to Moses that they never wanted to leave Egypt in the first place, only to die in the Wilderness. Some suggested to stand and fight. Mosee, unsure what would happen next, asked God for help and was told: “And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Why are you crying to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward. (Exodus 14:15)’.”

Famously, Midrash Rabbah explains that Nahshon ben Aminadab, from the tribe of Judah, was first to lead the way into the water, whereupon God told Moses to use his staff to part the sea.

An east wind blew all night, splitting the waters, enabling the Israelites to cross the dry seabed. But by dawn, Pharaoh’s army, who were in pursuit, were mired in mud, and when the waters returned at daybreak to their natural state, the world’s greatest army had drowned and were washed up on the shore for all to see. The Song of the Sea, celebrating the Israelites’ survival, was sung spontaneously and is still part of our daily prayers today.

There are two important lessons that we take from this event. First, we recognise that miracles don’t happen by themselves – they require human catalysts. Second, we see that often it isn’t leaders who take the initiative, but inspired individuals who set forward-progress in motion.

In an age of fake news, we aren’t surprised to find climate sceptics who underestimate the human-cause to climate change. Their arguments fall into several categories. ‘It’s so cold in winter, how can you say there’s global warming?’ ‘Climate change is natural, it’s happened before.’ ‘There’s no scientific consensus.’ ‘Plants and animals can adapt.’ ‘Change is good for us.’ ‘Even if there is climate change, it’s too late to do anything about it.’

In the Anglo-Jewish community, Eco-Synagogue, supported by the Board of Deputies, is leading a responsible communal strategy. We recognise that environmental degradation is real, accelerating and requires bold action now. Our community audit focuses on five steps:

1) Community management

2) Prayer and teaching

3) Lifestyle

4) Land, buildings, and consumables

5) Community and global engagement.

It all begins simply with the individual decision to want to assess our impact.

The Torah states that we are guardians of God’s Creation, that it is our responsibility to protect and ensure a healthy environment for our children and for generations to come. Thus far, around 55 synagogues have begun the audit process. Isn’t it time for the rest of us to jump in?!


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