Braid the Parashah

Chol Hamoed Pesach

What is the difference between passing over and passing before something or someone? Both concepts are presented during the holiday of Passover… one during seder and the other on the Shabbat that falls during the intermediary days of the holiday.

At seder we retell the story of when God “pasach,” or passed over the homes of the Israelites when he smote down the first born of every Egyptian household during the 10th plague.  

This Shabbat we read a passage that occurs later in the book of Exodus, when God “avar,” or passed before Moses as a way of assurance, comfort, and connection. God is responding to Moses’ request to better “know” God and to be sure that God will continue to support him as he leads the people toward freedom.

These two passages present the exact opposite idea… in the first God notices only enough to know to keep going… to intentionally not stop or dwell… in the second, it is precisely the dwelling that holds significance. Both critical to the story of the redemption of the Jewish people but in entirely different ways.  At times we need God to notice us but move on to other important business, other times we need nothing other than God’s presence.

Perhaps this commentary is only interesting to English speakers given that the Hebrew verbs themselves are entirely different. But in English, when we have the same verb with different adverbs, it invites us to explore the different ways we think about God during different times of the holiday, or different times in our life.  When we are in the thick of the story, in the thick of any crisis we are facing, we are so focused on our basic human needs. The focus is survival… get us out of Egypt before we are killed! But once we have crossed the sea, no longer enslaved but not yet free… When we have a second to breathe and focus on what’s next, our healing, our yearning, our future, that’s when we need God’s presence the most. 

It’s a great lesson for the trajectory of needs we go through as we face life’s various challenges and sometimes it helps to just be able to recognize what stage we are in.  Are we in survival mode? Or are we past survival and moving on a path toward healing or justice?

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