Parshat Beshalach, On Holistic Healing and Release from the Bondage of Dogmatic Religion

For a printable PDF please click here:parshat beshalach 57793066697-56a55f6e3df78cf77287fd0b
In the merit of a full refua for my dear mother Mindel Liba Bat Fayga Perl

As humans we are inclined towards binary methods of seeing the world. Black-white, real-unreal, atheist-believer, rational-irrational. In reality nothing is ever that clear cut. Science would have us think that anything that cannot be rationally, scientifically or empirically verified must be false. Believers, mystics or super-naturalists would have us believe that faith can only be attained through a leap of faith, a jump beyond the natural realm of experience or reason. In reality neither is true and this where we often fall into the trap of what I term religious dissonance; that is when my human experiences cannot be placed neatly into the (religious) dogmatic boxes and frameworks that have been neatly laid out for me. When my human experience of say suffering or tragedy cannot be placed into the doctrine of a good God (to use the obvious but common example). When this happens, we become perplexed and being human we grapple for answers, often in an absolute form, that allay our sudden panic and sense of unbalance. Those answers we still want to place in our dogmatic boxes and so we start the vicious cycle of what can only be termed religious mollycoddling.
Sitting in Tampa, Florida this week by the bedside of my mother, as she undergoes ground breaking cancer therapy (which we are praying really does bring about the miracle cure it promises), I have been absolutely blown away by the care at the Moffitt Cancer Centre. Not only does the medical care here tick every box in terms of its professionalism, scientific expertise and advanced technological methodology, the hospital also offers a holistic approach that includes everything from a fully equipped art room to a resident harp player. The philosophy that underpins this is that though research, science and modern medicine have to be the basis for fighting disease, the body, the mind, the composite human responds to so much more than just his or her DNA and scientific make up. As human beings we cannot be reduced to our cells and skin, we are a world, our make up is composed of our memories, our psychologies, our family, our upbringing, our nature, our feelings, in other words everything that resides in our souls. There is a part of us that cannot be found in the science lab under a microscope. We respond to things like beauty and music from an ephemeral place and the response will be different in every human, for each of us possesses a uniqueness that makes us who we are. Thus, when we talk about healing first and foremost we must talk about medicine, and cells and labs and reactions, but we must also talk about so much more than that. We must talk about what we have to live for and why we must live. We must become attuned to the depth of awe and majesty we feel in seeing a thing of immense beauty or hearing music that touches the recesses of places hidden away. These are the elements that reside in our souls. These are our daily reminders of why we must fight to survive and overcome our ailments. In our moments of awe, pettiness falls away, anger diminishes, generosity of spirit expands and a powerful sense of gratitude for just simply being burst forth.
Knowing that nothing is black and white, that not everything can be placed into dogmatic boxes, that we are composed of more than just the list of things we are, is a process of maturation that releases us from the fetters of religious bondage and though temporarily it may launch us into a capricious state, eventually it leads to movement and growth that ultimately ends in true liberty.
This week’s Parsha has always had a special place in my heart because the figure I love most in Tanach, Miriam, plays a particularly special role, a role that the Midrashic and Biblical narrative bring to light in a vivid and radical way.
Miriam is holistic medicine, and the scientist in the lab; she is the atheist and the believer; she is the rationalist and the mystic; she is all and nothing. She sees the reality, there is no turning away from the pain and sorrow, from the dead babies in the Nile and the darkness of the exile. She sees it all; she sees the absence of God and the drawn and hollow filled eyes of her father, and yet…..she also sees the child and his future, the light and the good; the water at the bottom of well that cannot be measured and that requires hope and resilience to touch. She hears the music in the suffering and she teaches others to hear and play it too. She feels the salvation even in the pit of hell, because she believes not just in the redemptive power of God but in the redemptive power of man. She doesn’t place anything into dogmatic structures, in fact she breaks all the boxes, all the paradigms. For her, the daughter of Pharaoh does not need to be placed into the box of the enemy, her brother the box of the slave, herself the box of the quiet placid woman who accepts her fate. In breaking the boxes and paradigms that have been set up around her, she shows us what real faith is, and it is NOT what we expect. It is not propositional statements about God and man; it is not even absolute faith that things will turn out well because God is on our side. In fact it is exactly the opposite. For Miriam faith is a belief in the very things we cannot see, the water at the bottom of the well, the music at the moment of redemption before it has happened, the strength, resilience, hope, perseverance, beauty of life and living. All these things are the song of the well, they are all what makes Miriam’s song. To see beyond that which we can see doesn’t mean I have to be superhuman, it means I have to acknowledge that as humans we are made up of so much more than just that which we see, and our experiences cannot be whittled down to any one thing.
Thus when we stare at a thing of beauty or hear a exquisite piece of music, or experience a moment or epiphany of any kind, it should remind us that though seas may not split for us today, the possibility of it is always just round the corner, or if you like in the song or vision that we see and hear every day. In the words of the iconic Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
Miriam reminds us that to achieve redemption we must break our binary vision of reality and our eagerness to place all human experience into fixed paradigms. Only when we acknowledge that beyond all absurdity and mystery lies meaning, can we truly begin to appreciate the true significance of religiosity. Only then will we be on the path to redemption from the shackles of our personal enslavement.

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One comment on “Parshat Beshalach, On Holistic Healing and Release from the Bondage of Dogmatic Religion
  1. Estie Agus says:

    Beautiful as always, Tanya. Wishing your mother a refuah shleima. I am headed to Colorado with my extended family for our annual ski vacation where the Mountain View beckons the radical amazement you describe. Shabbat Shalom.

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