Friday, January 18, 2008

602. Then Moses sang...

Az yashir Moshe...
"Then Moshe sang..."

This is the beginning of the Song of the Sea, the ecstatic, triumphant, violent poem of praise (from this Shabbat's Torah portion, Beshallah) that accompanies the rush across Yam Suf, the ocean standing between Mitzrayim and freedom. "Az," said the rabbi at services, translates to "then"--a time in the past. But "yashir" is a future tense: "will sing." So these words do not mean "Then Moses sang," as usually translated, but rather "Then Moses will sing," which doesn't seem to make sense.

But it does: a clash of what has happened and what will happen describes perfectly the process of change. Nahshon makes that decisive first leap, but the Israelites wander lost and confused for decades before his action resolves. It takes time as well as courage, said the rabbi, to leave Mitzrayim, whatever narrow place in which we're stuck. Until we find our destination, we remain in a kind of twilight zone while we fully extract ourselves from the past. The rabbi wished us a journey much, much shorter than 40 years before we discover where we're meant to be, and the strength to jump in the water.

I marvel how some rabbis can read minds and know your question before you even ask it. I need that courage. I think I'm wandering, which really isn't unpleasant. But it would be nice to get to the other side.

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