I grew up in Israel in a domestic war zone - a "language war" that raged between my parents. The fight was between Hebrew and Yiddish. Ours was not the only household where this war was fought. It was a struggle between the new Israel and the old diaspora, but it was very personal and quite emotional.
The Burden and Responsibility of Freedom
“Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.”
A few weeks ago in Parashat Beshalach, we read about the exodus from Egypt. In this dramatic Torah portion the Israelites exit Egypt on their way to freedom. This is not a purely joyous moment for them. They leave with heavy hearts, concerned about their future and with a feeling of hopelessness. They question the very decision to leave and some would rather go back and be slaves than face the unknown. At the moment of truth the sea parts and they walk to safety. The long journey to freedom has begun.
We have been blessed through this foundational myth with the idea of freedom as an ultimate value. But at the same time there are both internal and external forces that work against it. The Torah portion tells us about the wish of the people to give up this newly found freedom. Their fear, uncertainty and longing for what they left behind, prepare them for the long way ahead. The journey to freedom is as important as freedom itself.
Most of us were born to freedom. We did not have to realize we were shackled, we did not have to take a long journey, we did not arrive at the metaphoric bank of the Jordan River in order to cross it to the Promised Land. Still, some of us have had “a certain Egypt” and overcame what we perceive as oppression or tyranny. And of course most of us are enslaved to something: career, bad habits, way of thinking, tablets and iPhones, fill in the blank... Either way we must never take the freedom and independence that we have for granted. We have a responsibility to protect it, to fight for it and to tell the story of the long journey toward it to our children and students this year. Especially this year!
“May we all be blessed this Pesach with the ability to feel yetziat mitzrayim, on the national level and on the personal level, so that we are redeemed from whatever confines us.”
- Jennie Rosenfeld, Towards Personal Redemption
We include a few resources that explore the Exodus from different national, communal and personal perspectives. Enjoy!
EXODUS - A MIDRASH SONG
by Etti Ankri (lyrics and music)
Etti Ankri is an Israeli singer-songwriter. She has performed in the United States and other countries. Ankri has been called a "rock genius" the "poet of Israeli spirituality," and "the contemporary voice of... Israel." Her midrash song about the Exodus from Egypt is full of the rhythms of her Mizrachic roots.
Lyrics in English
Translation by Robbie Gringras
From video: Makom-Israel Engagement Network
This is Jacob’s pain
Over little Joseph
Sown within us
Is senseless brotherly hatred
And sometimes it seems to me
When I am ready to give up
Pharaoh is my disorder
And I am sad for Egypt
And sometimes it seems to me
That we are still there
Walking towards the mountain
Begging for water
May it open up in two
The salt water
And we shall pass in between –
All those that are walking
To leave in the exodus from Egypt
To arrive in the desert
Perhaps we’ll find some water there
On the way to the mountain
May it open in two
The salt water
And we shall pass in between
All those who are weeping
And they are gaining on us
An army of cavalry
It is difficult for Moshe
The people have no faith in their hearts
The beach’s touch is calming
The sea gapes open its mouth
What if we return to Egypt?
Fear has no memory
We were builders of pyramids
Interpreters of dreams
We had nothing we could call our own
Only salt and tears
EVERY PERSON NEEDS TO HAVE A CERTAIN EGYPT
Poem by Israeli poet Amnon Ribak
The Exodus as a metaphor for dealing with hardship and resulting in personal growth.
The poem suggests that from a crisis, from the abyss and from despair, a person can find his/her inner Moses, and take themselves out of their “certain Egypt” on a journey of personal redemption.
to redeem themselves from it, from the
house of slavery,
to go out in the middle of the night to the
desert of fears,
to march straight into the waters,
to see them open before them to both sides.
Every person needs a shoulder,
on which to carry the bones of Joseph,
Every person needs to straighten their
Every person needs to have a
and a Jerusalem,
and one long journey,
that they will forever remember
in their feet.
Every person needs to have a
To deliver themselves from it
with a strong arm,
or with grinding teeth.
Every person needs terror and great
and comfort and promise and redemption,
that they would know to look up at the sky.
Every person needs one
that would always be on their lips.
A person needs to bend one time –
Every person needs a shoulder.
Every person needs to have a
TEXT STUDIES & LESSON PLANS
1. Towards Personal Redemption – Text Study
Lesson on using “Exodus” - Etti Ankri’s song
By Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld
JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance)
3. Chofshi – Free.
A lesson plan from MAKOM about the concept of “free” as it appears in “Hatikvah”,
Israel’s national anthem. Etti Ankri’s song featured in this lesson plan as well.
4. Exodus, Freedom and Responsibility – Facilitator’s Guide
American Jewish World Service
For those in the Bay Area, all of the following books are available to borrow free of charge from the Jewish Community Library.
Classic Mussar texts translated from Hebrew
- The Path of the Just (Mesilat Yesharim), by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Feldheim, 2004.
- Cheshbon ha-Nefesh, by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Satanov. Feldheim, 1996.
- Shaare Teshuvah (The Gates of Repentance), by Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona. Feldheim, 1981.
- The Ways of the Righteous (Orhot Tsadikim). Feldheim, 1995.
- Duties of the Heart (Hovot ha-Levavot), by Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda. Feldheim, 1996.
History and Writings of the 19th-century Mussar Movement
- Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Musar Movement, by Immanuel Etkes. Jewish Publication Society, 1993
- The Fire Within: The Living Heritage of the Musar Movement, Hillel Goldberg
- Sparks of Musar: A treasury of the words and deeds of the Musar greats, by Chaim Ephraim Zaichyk
- Rabbi Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker, by Menahem G. Glenn. Bloch, 1953
- The History of the Musar Movement: 1840-1945, by Lester Samuel Eckman. Shengold, 1975.
- Ohr Yisrael: The Classic Writings of Rav Yisrael Salanter and His Disciple Rav Yitzchak Blazer. Targum Press, 2004.
Contemporary Mussar Teachings
- Mussar Yoga: Blending an Ancient Jewish Spiritual Practice with Yoga to Transform Body and Soul, by Edith Brotman. Turner, 2014
- The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions: Finding Balance Through the Soul Traits of Mussar, by Greg Marcus. Llewellyn, 2016 (forthcoming).
- Living Mussar Every Day, by Rabbi Zvi Miller. Targum Press, 2007.
- Climbing Jacob's Ladder: One Man's Rediscovery of a Jewish Spiritual Tradition, by Alan Morinis. Broadway Books, 2002.
- Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Musar, by Alan Morinis. Trumpeter Books, 2007.
- Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Musar, by Alan Morinis. Trumpeter Books, 2010.
- With Heart in Mind: Mussar Teachings to Transform Your Life, by Alan Morinis. Shambhala, 2014.
- A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Musar, by Ira F. Stone. Aviv Press, 2006.
- The Book of Jewish Values, by Joseph Telushkin, Bell Tower, 2000.
One participant shared this feedback:
"You brought us into the world of Piyut with a welcoming wide smile and delicious food, tastefully presented. The Moroccan decor and Tsipi’s attire and her twinkling eyes with endless longing for her childhood experiences were magic keys that opened the gate to the world of Piyut.
The balanced combination of knowledge and spirit enriched both the mind and the soul, that doesn't know how thirsty it is for that poetic world, obscure and beautiful, and which highlights the ancient Hebrew language of past generations.
You invited us to this poetic world through all the senses! We felt the piyut through body and soul. We stroked the glorious words as we visited Jewish homes in Spain, Morocco, Yemen, Iraq and Israel.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Thrilled with the turnout and the impact of the latest program from our Integration of the Arts Initiative. We spent the afternoon with educators from all over the Bay Area for a sweet taste of Piyut, Hebrew poetic liturgy.
Many thanks to our wonderful partners from Piyut North America, JCC of the East Bay, and Tehiya Day School; to our fearless leaders, Rabbi Tsipi Gabai and Vavi Toran, and to each of the educators who attended and have returned to their classrooms or communities ready to engage young minds with new and wonderful tools.
A window into the work:
We transformed the space with rugs, artifacts and props to create a festive and lively atmosphere. We opened the program with traditional music in the background and delicious Middle Eastern food in our bellies.
We presented piyutim as the sound track of the Jewish people, and discussed the contemporary revival of this music in Israel and around the world. Rabbi Tsipi Gabai shared her personal strong connection to piyutim through her history from home, synagogue and her rabbinic studies.
We dove deeply into five piyutim, with an examination of the text, the origin, poetic elements, and community of origin. Rabbi Tsipi Gabai with the aid of two musicians - Katja Cooper on percussions, and Rachel Sills on the Oud, taught each piyut. Katja demonstrated on the different percussion instruments, their origin and purpose and Rachel introduced the Oud which is perhaps the instrument most associated with Middle Eastern music.
Midway through the program we introduced a reflective tool encouraging participants to complete one of the statements:
“Singing piyutim connects me to…”
“Singing piyutim connects me to teaching about…”
We then formed a circle and improvised a dance interpretation of their responses, which included concepts and words including: past and present, heartbeat, happiness, ancient, roots...
We introduced curricula and books for teaching Piyutim in the classroom and gave participants kits including 18 recorded Piyutim and Mizmorim created by Piyut North America.
Toward the end of the program, we shared our learning and were blown away by the impact, just in a few hours.
22 participants attended, representing three day schools, six synagogues, several private tutors, one Hebrew immersion program, and one preschool, from all over the Bay Area and as far as Lake Tahoe Region.
For more information on Piyut, Integration of the Arts or upcoming professional development opportunities, email VToran@JewishLearningWorks.org.