“You blew with Your breath — the sea covered them over.” Exodus 15:10
What a joy to get to blog for 3200 Stories! I’m going to be posting a few items as I develop a new theater piece, titled Sea of Reeds, which will be performed early next year at the JCCSF.
It’s kind of scary to be sharing my raw experiences as I create the show: I feel a bit like The Monologuist With No Clothes. Eventually, when my collaborators and I have completed Sea of Reeds, I’ll get to “wear” the finished (and, presumably, polished) piece. But right now, as always happens, I begin in a condition of utter not-knowingness, stumbling in the dark through the marshes of my memories and confusions.
As a matter of fact, the marsh analogy is especially apt in this case! The Sea of Reeds (often translated, in older versions of the Torah, as the “Red Sea”) is, famously, the body of water that seemingly blocked the Israelites from making a life-saving escape from the Egyptians. But then, in what is considered the greatest miracle ever experienced by the Jewish people, the sea parted — allowing the Israelites to cross to safety — before closing again to swallow their pursuers.
The popular imagery of this event comes to us from the old Cecil B. DeMille movie The Ten Commandments, in which Charlton Heston (who, to be honest, doesn’t really look Jewish) raises his staff, signaling God to part the waters into two giant walls.
But, as my rabbi, Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, points out, the parting of the waters didn’t happen so quickly: “… the Lord led the sea with a mighty east wind all night” (my emphasis added). Which could lead someone to imagine a very different movie scene — one in which a shallow marsh, choked with reeds, is, over the course of many nocturnal hours, buffeted by relatively gentle winds, making it passable (though possibly quite muddy) for the fleeing Israelites.
So was the parting of the Sea of Reeds a DeMille-type miracle or more of a natural, gradual event? Well, I don’t know (I wasn’t there!).
But what I find so compelling about this Biblical passage — and the epic story that contains it — is that it evokes in me such strong emotions about how difficult it is to make big changes, individually and collectively.
Just to pick one subject that I currently find overwhelming, particularly as a father: How will we deal with global warming? Can we make the significant, and often jarring, changes in our behavior that will reverse (or at least ameliorate) the catastrophic melting of our planet, even as powerful economic forces resist any such efforts?
I look at my teenage son, and I think of the fragile world he is inheriting, and I pray for a miracle. But as I’ve begun, in middle age, to explore Judaism, I’ve come to believe that prayer is impotent unless accompanied by action — that, regardless of whether there is a God (or even a Charlton Heston), we humans must do our own muddy slogging if we hope to reach the other side.
And what, you may reasonably be wondering, does all this have to do with the Sea of Reeds show I’m working on? Well, I must tell you, in all honesty: I don’t know! (Yet!) But I do know a few things:
- The piece will have something to do with the Exodus story — and certainly with the episode at the Sea of Reeds.
- It will also have something to do with playing the oboe, a double-reed wind instrument that I (and, indirectly, my neighbors) suffered with in my youth — and which I have now taken up again, in my 50s.
- It will also have something to do with my newfound fascination with Judaism – including my bar mitzvah, two summers ago, in Israel.
- There will be at least one cantata by J.S. Bach, as found in a book of oboe solos I have with the evocative title of Difficult Passages.
- In Biblical Hebrew, the word for “wind,” ruach, is also the word for “breath” and “spirit” — raising the question: Which of those actually caused the sea to part?
- For the first time, after decades of monologue-making, I will be sharing the stage with other performers — musicians and actors.
- I’m hecka-nervous!
So that’s what I’m working on — and what I will be describing to you, mid-process, in upcoming posts. How will I make it across? I don’t know for sure — but I think I feel a wind coming.
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You can find out more about Josh’s doings at JoshKornbluth.com.