Saturday, March 24, 2012

#BlogExodus, Nisan 1: From the narrow places I call

Tonight is Rosh Hodesh Nisan, the beginning of the first month of the year.  Yes, I know, its confusing - isn't Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year that usually falls sometime in September - the start of the year?  Well, yes, that is the Jewish New Year, but Rosh Hashanah actually falls on the 1st day of the 7th month.  Because Jewish holy days were tied to the seasons long before our people superimposed historical and mythical layers to add to their meaning, it also makes sense that we would arrive at the beginning of the 1st month right after we announced the 1st day of Spring.  New life, new buds, new flowers appearing on earth - the sense of a new cycle beginning again.

This month I'm joining Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, along with many others, in #BlogExodus (that's how you'll search for others on Twitter who might have posted blogs as part of the project).  Together, we'll cover the days between the 1st and 14th of Nisan, leading up to Pesach.
Today's theme is the narrow places of Mitzrayim (Egypt).  As part of the Hallel (selection of psalms we sing on holidays and as part of the Passover Seder) we find the lines, min hameitzar karati Yah, anani va-merchav Yah.  From the narrow places I called out to God; God answered me expansively. (Ps. 118)

The first time I heard and learned the melody to these verses was with Debbie Friedman, z'l, at a Healing service in Westchester.  I don't quite recall, but it may well have been only the second time that I attended one of these services, and it was the month leading up to Pesach.  You can hear an excerpt of Debbie singing Min Hameitzar from 'The Journey Continues' album here.

I remember back to that time in my life.  I was not sick, but I had recently left the UK for a nine month stay at Elat Chayyim the transdenominational Jewish retreat center.  I was a bit home-sick, but it was also one of the most important periods of my life, in my mid-20s.  Looking back, I see that it was my soul that was aching - I was struggling internally with my sense of who I was and how to live my life.  I guess its the kind of angst familiar to many at that stage of life.  But it was a kind of spiritual mitzrayim - a narrow strait.  Debbie sang that song with a yearning in her voice - perhaps calling out from her own mitzrayim - and i felt some of the restraints that were holding me back start to break apart.  It was the beginning of my own journey through the wilderness to my Promised Land.

When I introduce the Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing during a service, I always invite my congregation to think of those in need of healing, 'whether healing of body or healing of spirit.'  I know that most people's minds turn immediately to those that they know who are physically ailing.  But Debbie taught us that we all need healing of spirit.  There is not one of us in this world who is so complete that we have no rough edges, no broken shards, or tender hearts, from some emotional or spiritual aching.  Each one of us can identify the mitzrayim that we live in, or have experienced at some time in our lives.

We begin the journey by calling out from that place - the narrow straits.  The ability to perceive expansiveness, to see that there is a path forward that can release us from the places we feel stuck in our lives, in our sense of self, in our sense of possibility ... the miracle is that the mere act of calling out can create the opening.  Just as the Hebrews in slavery had to call out before God heard and responded to their suffering.

Last week, we welcomed approx. 130 women, men and youth at our Women's Seder, dedicated to Debbie's memory, and led by the incredibly gifted and soulful Julie Silver.  It was a real honor to lead the Seder with Julie, accompanied by Carole Rivel, who accompanied Debbie in so many of the healing services and Women's Seders that she led for many years.  We all carry Debbie in our hearts, and her legacy lives on when we teach in her name, inspired by what she taught us.  She will forever remain as one of my greatest teachers.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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