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BY RABBI MORTON F. YOLKUT SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
n this week's sedrah, we again
read the thrilling and unfor-
gettable episode of the cross-
ing of the Red Sea. One week
following the Exodus, our ances-
tors stood on the shores of the
Red Sea and witnessed the de-
struction of their longtime Egypt-
ian tormentors. This miraculous
victory came when the people
feared all was lost and it was, in-
deed, the final confirmation of
God's promised redemption.
At this junction the Torah tells
us: "And Israel saw the great
work that God did against the
Egyptians, and they feared God;
and they believed in God and in
his servant Moses." (Exodus
As they witnessed this divine
deliverance, the Israelites burst
forth into a beautiful song of
thanksgiving. That song—the
shira—was later incorporated
into our daily liturgy and has
since become our quintessential
prayer of thanksgiving.
It has always seemed strange
that the Exodus itself was passed
by in absolute silence. There is no
mention of any songs or prayers
at that time. Only later at the
Red Sea did the Israelites offer a
song of thanksgiving. Why did
they wait until then? Why is
there no song of rejoicing a week
earlier—at the Exodus itself?
The answer to this question
turns on the role of the Israelites
at each of these respective events.
When our ancestors witnessed
the miracles of the Exodus, the
10 plagues and their dramatic
consequences, they were simply
passive spectators. God did the
miraculous acts and they mere-
ly observed from the sidelines.
They were liberated but they
were not involved in their liber-
Later, however, at the Red
Sea, a serious effort was required
on their part. According to our
sages, the waters divided only af-
ter the Israelites braved the
waves plunging into the water
until it reached up to their nos-
trils. Here, they were more than
spectators; they were partici-
pants. They were involved in
shaping their redemption and
forging their destiny.
This was true belief. "And they
believed in God and in His ser-
True faith implies commit-
ment and involvement. To believe
is to do something about that be-
lief. Now we can understand why
their song was delayed and re-
cited only later at the Red Sea.
For that song was an expression
of their devotion and total com-
mitment to the vision which they
had been privileged to behold.
Judaism, unlike many of the
other world religions, is not a re-
ligion which emphasizes dogma,
doctrines and beliefs. We are not
a people rooted in abstract prin-
ciples or philosophical specula-
tions. As Jews we are not
expected simply to learn by rote
a catechism or a series of facts.
Rather, the obligation of the Jew
is to experience, to live, and to
participate in the drama of sig-
nificant moments and hallowed
events. Ours is an action-orient-
ed and mitzvah-centered religion.
It is experiential.
On Passover we are not mere-
ly required to discuss the Exodus,
but also to taste the bitterness of
slavery, to eat the bread of afflic-
tion and to drink the wine of re-
demption. On Siikkot, we dwell
in flimsy booths to feel the cold
winds of exile. We are not a reli-
gion of abstraction, but of reali-
ty, of life itself. Judaism is a
religion of experience and it func-
tions meaningfully when it is
lived and experienced.
If Judaism is to survive and
prosper in this generation, we
must be prepared to move for-
ward like our ancestors and to
practice it and not just talk about
it. Let us learn from this re-
markable episode at the Red Sea
Let us not be content with mere-
ly saying smugly that we believe
in Judaism, and then doing noth-
ing about it. Belief implies com-
mitment and participation.
Nothing less will do! Let us prac-
tice what we preach and live
what we profess. 0
The Cultural Commission of Con-
gregation Beth Achim will hold
the next Sit-Down Kiddush to
welcome the coming of the new
month of Adar II on Feb. 25. Ser-
vices will begin at 8:45 a.m. fol-
lowed by the kiddush.
Norma Goldman, a professor
at Wayne State University, will
be the guest speaker. Her topic
will be "Exploring Israel: A Dig-