Beshalach 2021: The Power of Joy and Gratitude, finding satisfaction in an imperfect world.

 Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation B’nai Israel

Beshalach: The Power of Joy and Gratitude

January 29, 2021

What happens when we get what we want?  We spend our lives yearning, desiring, wanting more.  Through hard work, determination, and or sheer luck, we get exactly what we wanted.  Suddenly, we discover it is not.  Losing the last five pounds will not make our lives perfect.  Having LASIK and no longer needing glasses will not make our lives perfect.  Nothing.  NO THING will make our lives perfect.  What do we do with that?  How do we live if nothing is ever enough?

This week’s parsha, Beshalach, is special, and not only because with its beautiful music it is our Cantor’s bar mitzvah anniversary.  In Beshalach God broke our shackles.  We were freed from slavery.  The chains were broken.  We crossed the sea.  Spontaneously we sang.  We danced.  EVERYONE danced.  The children danced. The men danced.  The women danced. (How many of you are now singing Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song”?)

I want you to do the mitzvah of Passover with me: See yourself as the children of Israel, crossing the sea.  See the sea split.  See the fish floating in the water next to your head.  Feel the breeze.  Walk across the dry land and cross into 

Exodus 15:20:

 וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲח֧וֹת אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת׃ 

Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.

This is a moment of incredible joy and release.  Everything we could have imagined has happened.  For our entire lives we have been slaves.  Our parents have been slaves.  Our grandparents have been slaves.  With God’s hand, outstretched arm and Moses’ leadership,  with signs and wonders, we escaped.  We should be forever grateful for this moment.

Of course, we know what happens not a few verses later.  All this singing and dancing and we are ready for a drink.  We look around and find there is no water.  We return to the slave mentality.  We do not know how to provide for ourselves.  We expect someone else to do it for us.  So we cry out once again.  We yell at Moses, at God, at the world.  Why is this happening to us?

Exodus 16:3

וַיֹּאמְר֨וּ אֲלֵהֶ֜ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל מִֽי־יִתֵּ֨ן מוּתֵ֤נוּ בְיַד־יְהוָה֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּשִׁבְתֵּ֙נוּ֙ עַל־סִ֣יר הַבָּשָׂ֔ר בְּאָכְלֵ֥נוּ לֶ֖חֶם לָשֹׂ֑בַע כִּֽי־הוֹצֵאתֶ֤ם אֹתָ֙נוּ֙ אֶל־הַמִּדְבָּ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה לְהָמִ֛ית אֶת־כָּל־הַקָּהָ֥ל הַזֶּ֖ה בָּרָעָֽב׃ (ס) 

The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.”

Once again, Hashem provides. We get water.  We get manna.  We get everything we need and continue our journey.  While the traditional explanation is that the spies are the moment when God realizes that we will not enter the Promised Land, but instead it will be our children, this moment could also be an inflection point for God.

Pirkei Avot 4:1 teaches from Ben Zoma

Ben Zoma said:...

Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is said: “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper” (Psalms 128:2) 

“You shall be happy” in this world, “and you shall prosper” in the world to come. 

בֶּן זוֹמָא אוֹמֵר…

 אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר, הַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קכח) 

יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ. אַשְׁרֶיךָ, בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. וְטוֹב לָךְ, לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. 

Ben Zoma teaches us that the key to happiness is right in front of us.  We may not always feel that we have enough, but if we can change our perspective, perhaps we will discover our own contentment.  In that way, happiness is always a possibility.

Shabbat shalom.

From Facebook, my sermon is visible at 2 hour and 2 minute mark: