a 19th century painting of the scene
"The Children of Israel Crossing the Red Sea" by Henri-Frederic Schopin

After we emerge from suffering, we still need healing

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Vayakhel Pekudei
Shabbat HaChodesh
Exodus 35:1–40:38; 12:1-20
Ezekiel 45:16–46:18 

Shabbat HaChodesh marks the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the beginning of the month of Nissan in which we celebrate Passover, the great feast of our redemption from the narrows of Egypt. Each Shabbat in the four weeks leading up to Passover reflects a special theme.

This Shabbat is still within bounds of the crazy month of Adar, a month of joy in which we just celebrated a wild and wacky Purim holiday.

Yet Shabbat HaChodesh reminds us that we are in a countdown to Passover. And this Shabbat is meant to draw our attention even more to the new month that brings us one step closer to celebrating Passover. It includes a special Torah reading, Exodus 12:1-20, which describe the biblical essentials of the Passover holiday: “You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time (Exodus 12:17).

The month of Nissan is our month of redemption par excellence. As the full moon rises on this month, we will sit down to our laden holiday tables and once again engage in the Passover seder, celebrating our freedom. The rabbis see the month of Nissan as a bridge between Adar (which will end on Monday, March 27) and the month of Iyyar, which follows Nissan.

During the month of Adar, the Israelites were still in bondage, yet help and redemption were on the way. In a Hasidic commentary known as Likutei Yehoshua, the rabbis reflect on a piyyut, a special liturgical poem that was included in the additional service included on this special Shabbat.

There, they note that Adar can also be interpreted to mean “Ani Adonai refu’ekha” (I am God who heals you). Even before redemption comes in the month of Nissan, God already is sending healing and preparing the Israelites to be redeemed from slavery.

When the Israelites were in Egypt, they had not yet received the Torah — they had no mitzvot, no commandments to live by. Yet God healed them from slavery and freed them, thereby preparing them to receive the Torah. While enslaved they were not whole, but God escorted them from Egypt, stayed with them and lent healing powers to them that would ready them to accept the mitzvot of the Torah.

And Iyyar, the month that follows Nissan, can also be interpreted to mean, “Ani Adonai refu’ekha” (I am God who heals you). So the month of Nissan, of our redemption, is sandwiched between two months of healing: Adar and Iyyar. This rabbinic interpretation of the months that surround our Passover holiday and the month of Nissan can illuminate for us a way to think about our own personal slavery and redemption.

When we are enslaved and in darkness, we are in need of healing. And even as we begin to emerge from the darkness, our need for healing does not diminish. In fact, it may even increase.

As we taste redemption and freedom, we need to keep that healing power coming so that our experience of freedom is grounded. Maybe this is why the rabbis teach that healing surrounds redemption. How many of us choose to see these elements as separate, that healing can only begin with redemption?

But we know from our own experience that this is simply not true. Life doesn’t fall into such neat little boxes, nor did it do so for our ancestors. Life can be messy, we can feel free and still need healing. We can be enslaved and still feel healing.

As we draw closer to Passover and the feast of our redemption, may we remember that spiritual healing can envelope us. It can accompany us on our long way to freedom, during the moment of redemption and on our winding path as we try to figure out what to do with our newfound freedom.

Internal healing and external healing — both are needed to become whole as human beings and whole as a people. May the new month of Nissan bring healing power for us all as we march toward freedom.

Rabbi Susan Leider
Rabbi Susan Leider

Rabbi Susan Leider is the senior rabbi at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon. She can be reached at [email protected].