Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat B’shalach

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat has special recognition as the Sabbath of Song, Shabbat Shirah. It is so noted because this week we read/chant Moses’ first great song/poem. Shirat Hayam, the Song at the Sea is Moses’ response to the Exodus, the experience of leaving Egypt fully free and on the journey to the Promised Land. It is a joyful song that Moses sings and teaches the Israelites.

His sister, Miriam, is also inspired by the experience and adds to her song musical instruments and dance. I can only imagine what these moments felt like to our ancestors. The exhilaration of these first moments of freedom filled our ancestors so fully that they were compelled to sing and dance in joy, gratitude, and relief.

We know, however, that this moment was short lived. As soon as reality hit, the reality of their surroundings – a desert devoid of food and water – they became fearful and irrational. Even in the midst of their miraculous redemption, they turned against Moses and lost faith in God as soon as they became thirsty and hungry.

I marvel at this quick and complete reversal of emotion and belief, and I also understand it very well. It can be so hard to keep the good lifted up in the midst of fear and chaos. Fear can be completely overwhelming. Fear can paralyze us or worse cause us to act contrary to what our higher selves call us to do.

Perhaps it is for this very reason that we include verses from Moses and Miriam’s song in each and every worship service we celebrate. Coming at the end of the Sh’ma and its blessings and right before the Amidah we chant the words: “Who is like You, Adonai, among the gods that are worshipped?” We remind ourselves each day of the blessing of goodness that surrounds us, especially when we experience chaos and fear. We remember that there is good in our world and that there is strength in faith.

The rabbis of our tradition play off the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzraim, to teach about the Israelite journey and our own journey toward the Promised Land. Egypt, Mitzraim, was a makom tsar, a narrow place. Leaving this narrow place and entering the sea, the Israelites emerged on the other side as a new creation…reborn. So it is with us. The goodness never leaves. Even in the narrow place of fear there is the promise of rebirth and renewal. Therefore, we sing the ever-new song of Moses and Miriam: “Who is like You, Adonai, among the gods that are worshipped? Who is like You adorned in holiness working wonders?”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D.

Rabbi Paul Cohen

About Rabbi Paul Cohen

Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D. is originally from Chicago. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Grinnell College where he studied biology and comparative religion. Upon graduation, he moved to Minneapolis where he worked for two years in a short-term residential treatment program for delinquent adolescents. Rabbi Cohen received his Masters of Arts and rabbinic ordination and the honorary degree, Doctor of Divinity, celebrating 25 years in the rabbinate in March 2015, from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, he served as the student rabbi for the United Hebrew Congregation in Ft. Smith, Arkansas and the auxiliary chaplain at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Rabbi Cohen's rabbinical thesis was titled "Modes of Divine Communication: Some Aspects of the Rabbinic Views" which focused on some of the less conventional ways rabbis expect to send and receive communication vis a vis heaven. Rabbi Cohen was awarded a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Bangor Theological Seminary in May 2001. His dissertation is entitled "Digging Our Parent's Wells" and deals with congregational renewal. While in Cincinnati, Rabbi Cohen met his wife, Cathy, and together they moved to Norfolk, Virginia where he served as the assistant and then associate rabbi of Ohef Sholom Temple. Active on many community boards of directors, Rabbi Cohen was the founding president of the South Hampton Roads Campaign for the Homeless. Immediately prior to serving Temple Jeremiah, Rabbi Paul Cohen was the spiritual leader of Congregation Bet Ha'am in South Portland, Maine and served on the boards of the Jewish Federation, Cedars Nursing Home, the Equity Institute and the Cancer Community Center. He was the president of the Greater Portland Interfaith Council, a founding member of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination and the Maine Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Choices and sat on its executive board. Politically and communally active, Rabbi Cohen has been asked on several occasions to offer testimony before state legislative committees. Rabbi Cohen served as chair of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee of Olin-Sang Ruby Union Institute, he is President of the Chicago Association of Reform Rabbis and is a past board member of the Interfaith Housing Center of the North Shore (now called Open Communities), was a founding board member of Family Promise of Chicago North Shore, served as President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and is a member of the Winnetka Interfaith Council, served on the Ethics Committee of the North Shore Senior Center. He is a graduate of the Kellogg Management Education for Jewish Leaders program, sits on the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation Board of Directors and the Jewish Center for Addiction Advisory Board and serves on the Clergy Advisory Board for the Public Defender of Cook County. He is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
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