There is a defining moment in the history of the Jewish people. It goes by name of pesach, and among many other things it means ‘passage’. A nation is freed by God’s powerful hand out of Egypt so it can make a journey back home. Once out of Egypt, a few days of walking would have been enough to reach the destination. However, there were other plans for this freedom to be fully concretised.
A crossing was to take place. Not over land but through the Sea of Reeds. For some strange reason, 600,000 men, together with women and children, were brought in front of a vast body of water. Behind them an Egyptian army was ready to take back the nation they previously possessed and enslaved.
This is a very familiar situation – being squeezed between a new but risky opportunity to start anew, while running away from a place of enslavement that we weirdly got used to. Despite the harsh conditions, Egypt somehow also became a home. God, together with Moses, his collaborator in the rescue mission, had some hard convincing to do.
At the shores of the Red Sea the people had different opinions on the way to go. Some despaired and wanted to jump in the sea and drown. Others wanted to return to Egypt and resume their enslaved lives. Some unrealistically wanted to engage in a battle with the mighty Pharaoh and his army. Others wanted to shout at the Egyptians, hoping that by shouting at the problem, the latter would go away. None of these options were the right ones; the only way was through the sea.
Very often it seems the only way for us to be born anew is to go through the waters, with courage but also with a hefty dose of fear. These kinds of rebirths are not those superficial changes we apply only externally; they are more profound transformations that leave a lasting impact. Part of us has to be left behind in Egypt, never to be seen again. These are the phases in life where our lifestyle becomes nomadic, that in-betweenness that is equally exciting and turbulent.
As soon as God opened a way through the seas the first step was to be taken. Strangely enough the text tells us that the Israelites “went through the sea on dry ground”. The rabbis dug deep in between the lines to understand how the people could be simultaneously passing through the sea and on dry ground. They tell us that the sea did not quite split for them until they had entered nose deep into the waters. Only then did it become dry land.
The journey to inner freedom, from the land of slavery into the promised fruitful land, requires those nose-deep moments where we think we are going to pass out and drown, never to come back up. That is the true meaning of pesach, of a passage that leads to a new shore.
The journey to inner freedom requires those nose-deep moments where we think we are going to drown
Once we cross, we look back and ask ourselves how we managed to do the crossing. From that new shore, Egypt becomes a place we would not want to revisit again, and even when we do end up there again, we know that home is another place.