Taking the Plunge

Taking the Plunge
Passover, unlike the holiday of Sukkot, is very top heavy.  Most of the action seems to take place during the first two days in the form of the seder, and the rest of the holiday seems to be more about praying and eating matzah.  But the holiday is 8 days for a reason!  We can go deeper than the seders.  

On the 6th day of Passover, we went to the beach for a Passover-friendly picnic.  It was a beautiful day, but the waves were strong and we were not allowed to enter the water passed our knees.  It was a timely reminder of what we were about to mark on the 7th day of Passover - the splitting of the Sea of Reeds (Kriyat Yam Suf) and the children of Israel's first steps into freedom.  The very next day, we took the sea to Shaarei Kodesh by listening to the reading of the Song at the Sea.  Together, we studied the midrashim/rabbinic legends associated with this event.  When we think about the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, we often think that children of Israel had a sense of unbelievable faith to follow Moses into the sea (i.e. Exodus 14:31 And when Israel saw the wondrous power which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord; they had faith in the Lord and His servant Moses).  But before this moment, in the prior versus, the people expressed great fear and lack of faith as they saw the Egyptians pursuing them.  Were they people of blind faith or no faith?  The rabbis of the midrash offer various stories that help explain how the children of Israel gathered the faith to take the plunge.  Together, we read the story of Nachshon Ben Aminadav, the head of the tribe of Judah, who jumped into the water while the other tribes and even Moses were reluctant.  The midrash tells us that when Nachshon took the plunge, the sea fled from him.  The midrash can teach us valuable lessons of what we could do in the face of the unknown and intimidating things in life. 

This Shabbat, we will be welcoming in Naomi Malka, the Mikvah Director of Adas Israel, a Conservative congregation in Washington, DC, as our final scholar in residence of the year.  I met Naomi a number of years ago at Adas Israel.  She gave me a tour of the mikvah at the synagogue, a rarity in the Conservative Jewish world, but something that is quickly gaining popularity across the country outside of the Orthodox Jewish world.  As I heard about how Naomi uses the mikvah, for men and women of all ages who are seeking a ritual to help with transitions in life, from births, to bar/bat mitzvah, to wedding, to preparing for holidays, to cleansing one's soul after completing treatment for cancer.  It seemed that the possibilities for the mikvah in the 21st century seemed to be wide open!  I urge you all to watch the included video to learn more about the word Naomi is doing at Adas Israel.

As I toured the mikvah, the words of Rav Kook came to me:  Jews must make the old new, and the new holy.  Naomi is on the cutting edge of doing incredible work in the Jewish world; making this ancient practice relevant again for the masses of Jews.  I urge you all to do something:  take the plungeand come here Naomi speak next Shabbat at Congregation Shaarei Kodesh.  I promise you, you will walk away inspired and renewed!  

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Baum


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