PASSOVER – YIZKOR SERMON
April 11, 2015 | 22 Nisan 5775
By now, you are tiring of this holiday.
For many of us, Passover began on a real high.
We devoted significant attention to the sedarim.
To be with family members and friends was wonderful!
But now it’s the last day of Passover, really the last hours, and the joy we associate with this holiday has worn off.
How ironic, then, that yesterday, the seventh day of the holiday, was such an important day.
We hosted our interfaith Hunger Seder on Thursday evening at the outset of the seventh day, and it was a high, quite successful!
Traditionally, the seventh day of Passover is an important day because that is the time, we are told, when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.
You’ve read about it in the Torah.
You have even seen it on television as recently as last Sunday evening courtesy of Cecil B. DeMille.
Both the Torah and the movie project this moment in similar fashion.
As the Israelites stand at the Sea, they see Pharaoh and his troops rapidly approaching them from behind.
In mortal fear they cry out to Moses who seeks to assure them.
Then the “Charleton Heston moment” arrives.
At God’s instruction, Moses raises his staff, the sea parts and the Israelites pass through the dry beds to safety on the other side.
But that isn’t the way our midrashic tradition understands it.
There, it seems, the Israelites feared the imposing waters of the Red Sea in front of them as much as they feared the approaching enemy behind them.
The waters had not yet parted.
According to the midrash (Mechilta Beshallah 5/Talmud Sota 37a) none of the tribes would budge.
So Nachshon ben Aminadav, a leader of the tribe of Judah, “took the bull by the horns,” jumped into the sea and continued to move forward until the waters reached his nostrils.
It was at that point that God rebuked Moses – “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!” (Ex. 14:15).
At that point, Moses raised his staff, the waters parted and the Israelites moved forward through the dry beds of the Red Sea.
According to this midrash Nachshon’s bold move, a leap born of faith in God and in the future, was absolutely decisive.
It literally and figuratively enabled the Israelites to move forward.
The Israelites would experience many difficulties and challenges in the years that followed, but without Nachshon’s leap into the unknown, the life of this community would have ended right there at the Red Sea.
Many of us here this morning have stood where the Israelites stood, at our own Red Sea.
That “Red Sea” was caused by the death of a loved one who was particularly dear to us.
It may have been the death of a parent.
More likely, it was the death of a beloved spouse or precious child.
We viewed that upheaval and loss as a threat to our own lives.
In that sense, it became our own personal “Red Sea moment.”
Let me explain.
Like our Israelite ancestors, as we looked in front of us, we saw a vast and all-encompassing threat – the future.
“How will I live without him?”
“How will I manage without her by me?”
“I won’t ever be able to live normally again after this devastating loss!”
It was simply impossible to move forward (Maybe even literally for a time, just to put one foot in front of the other).
As we looked behind us, unlike the Israelites, we saw no fast-approaching enemy that would overwhelm us.
Nonetheless what we did see back there threatened to overwhelm…
For what was it that we saw?
We saw the glorious days of the past with that loved one…many years with a loving spouse; far fewer probably with a precious child.
Those memories filled us not with fear but with an aching longing for what once was.
In front of us lay the vast sea of an uncertain future.
Behind us, wonderful memories of times we yearned to return to.
And what did you do if and when you faced such a “Red Sea moment?”
Well, if you are sitting here today, if you are going to join us at Kiddush following our service and talk with your friends there, if you get up every morning and get out of bed then just like Nachshon ben Aminadav you had the faith to “leap into the sea;” to move, haltingly perhaps at first and then more confidently, into a future without your loved one.
You did not allow fear of that future or longing for the past to paralyze you.
Instead, you reaffirmed the value of your own life.
Oh, yes, life was very different in the absence of your loved one, but like Nachshon you moved forward and succeeded.
Some of us here have not yet had such a “Red Sea moment.”
The word “yet” is probably the key word; we almost inevitably will face a time when we will lose an individual we call “our life” – a person with whom we have shared as with no other or a person in whom we saw our continuity after we would leave this earth and now that point of continuity is gone, and we are still here.
If and when that “Red Sea moment” arrives, may we have the strength, faith and vision of our ancestor, Nachshon ben Aminadav.
May we possess and exhibit the ability to move boldly into our uncertain future.