This week’s parsha, Shemot, is the same Torah portion that I read from the bima at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, MI, thirteen-and-a-half years after officially claiming Judaism as an adult b’nai mitzvah. What a wonderful opportunity to be able to turn and return to this portion again now, 7 years later. And what an auspicious number – seven years — as we enter a Shmita year beginning Rosh Hashana 2021.
In my dvar back then, I spoke about Moses, who has just received God’s call. He is no doubt struck with awe and fear, but after a series of objections Moses accepts God’s mission to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. One of the things that struck me at the time was the casual nature of the conversation Moses has with God. “Vayomer Moshe el haElohim — Moses said to God.” God is referred to as Elohim — the basic name for God.
The casualness of the God’s name showed me that there is no right or wrong way to talk to God. I don’t have to wait for a sign that God is ready to listen. I don’t have to wait for a sign that I am worthy to talk to God. All I need to do is open my heart and my mouth. No angst. No struggles. Ask questions, but overall, easy and natural.
It didn’t matter as I stood on that bima that I am a Jew by choice who married a man who was raised Catholic. It didn’t matter that I didn’t grow up in a Jewish home or go to Hebrew school. God was there for me.
I am not the same person I was 7 years ago. Not surprisingly, I can see the changes most markedly in the faces of my children who no longer closely resemble their baby pictures. And as I look into that infamous burning bush I see in multiple dimensions, I feel a myriad of sensations; I hear the multitude of voices past and present; I think not only of God and me, but of all living beings.
And, my, how the world has changed. What hasn’t changed however is that just as I was not alone on that bima that cold winter evening, held by my local community inside the synagogue, I am not alone now. I continue to find strength and courage from Judaism and from the wider community. Perhaps what God is asking me to do this coming year is to refrain from feeding my fears. Give my anxiety a rest. I’m not sure at this moment what that will look like, but I’m willing to give it a try.
SooJi Min-Maranda is the executive director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, a national nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing Judaism. She is an immigrant, Jew by Choice, and social justice agitator.