In honor of the bride and groom, Allie Peha and Joseph Shamash, let’s sing the opening words of Sam Cooke’s famous song, “You Send Me.”
Darling, you send me
I know you send me
Darling, you send me
Honest you do, honest you do
Honest you do, whoa
You thrill me
I know you, you, you thrill me
Darling, you, you, you, you thrill me
Honest you do
At first I thought it was infatuation
But, woo, it’s lasted so long
Now I find myself wanting
To marry you and take you home, whoa
You, you, you, you send me
I know you send me
I know you send me
Honest you do
The key word in this song is the word “you.” The question I want to talk about today is ‘Where is this ‘you’?’ Where can it be found? I love the way Sam Cooke elongates the ‘you’ when he sings. That suggests that it can go on and on. It doesn’t have a precise boundary. It’s hard to define. What is it? Where is it exactly, this mysterious ‘you?’
So, here is one theory. Years ago, there was a wonderful movie called Cocoon. Aliens visited the earth. And, they didn’t have bodies. They were only souls. So, when they got to the earth, they received bodies, so they could communicate with the locals.
And, there is this famous scene, where one night, the aliens have a pool party, and they think no humans are around. So, they unzip their bodies as if they were suits of clothes, and they climb out of them – and, they are just these ethereal beings of light.
We could get the impression that this is the Jewish view of our ‘you’. After all, in our prayers in the morning, we say: elokai neshama she’natata bi tehora hi/My God,the soul which you have placed in me is pure. Those words depend on the idea that when we are sleeping, our souls leave our bodies and fly back to heaven. And, then God gives us back our souls in the morning.
But, then who is the ‘us’ that get our souls back? If God places my soul ‘in me’, who is this ‘me’? Is there a me separate from my soul? The prayer implies that my body is ‘me’ as much as my soul is ‘me’. It’s confusing. Where are we? Are we in our bodies? Are we in our souls? Or both?
I’d like to suggest an unusual source for understanding this from today’s parasha. Here is the scene. God is speaking with Moses at the Burning Bush in the Sinai Desert. God is telling Moses: Go back to Egypt and say to Pharoah: shalach et ami/let my people go. And, Moses is very hesitant. He’s not confident he can convince either Pharoah or the Jewish people that God has really sent him.
So God says to Moses: take the staff in your hand and throw it to the ground. Moses does, and it becomes a snake. And, Moses says Woa! And he jumps back. Then God says to Moses: Shlach yadcha, ve’echoz bi’znavo. Literally these words mean ‘send forth your hand, and grab the snake by the tail.’
It’s a very interesting choice of words. God could have simply said: Grab the snake by the tail. Why use those extra words ‘shlach et yadcha’/send forth your hand?’ Normally when the word ‘shlach’ is used/send forth – it implies that someone other than us is acting as our agent.
So, it’s as if Moses’s hand is his agent. It’s as if Moses is having an out of body experience. And, we could understand why. Because when the snake is in front of Moses, we could understand why his hand would not want to obey his mind’s command. It’s as if momentarily, Moses’s hand were a separate being, unable to move in the direction Moses wants it to move. And, Moses has to quite literally ‘send forth’ his arm – as if he were a general giving a command to a reluctant soldier.
For a split second, Moses’s ‘you’ was not in his arm. If God says: send forth your arm, Moses, then this implies that at this moment, Moses’ arm is not Moses. It ‘belongs’ to Moses, in some way, but it is not ‘him.”
Now, this is not the normal course of things. We don’t normally experience our bodies as separate from ourselves. Not since the sixties, anyway. But, not normally. We don’t have to command our bodies to take us places. We don’t have to say, I’m going to ask my legs to take me jogging. When we want to go, we go.
So, why would God want Moses to have an out of body experience? It’s because that’s what slavery is. In Azar Nafisi’s book, The Republic of the Imagination, she speaks to a young Iranian man who told her about the first time he was arrested by the Revolutionary Militia. He had been taken into custody with his two friends, kept for 48 hours and then released without explanation after being fined and flogged.
He said that during the floggings, it was not just the pain, but the humiliation that made him feel for a few moments as if he were leaving his body and becoming a ghost, watching himself being flogged from a distance. “It made it easier,” he said, “as a ghost.”
We Jews can understand this. To survive, we have often had to be a soul outside our body, a people outside our land. When we were slaves in Egypt, and many other times in our history, to our slavemasters, we were bodies without souls. The Egyptians did not see the ‘you’ in the Jewish slave, only a machinelike body doing the Egyptian will.
And, no doubt, to maintain their sanity, as they were doing their work, the Jewish slaves removed themselves emotionally from what they were doing. “They” were more than what their bodies were forced to do. Their ‘you’ transcended their physical reality at that moment.
But, of course, that is a very unhealthy situation. I think it could be argued that this is the very definition of slavery – when body and soul are detached. In Martin Luther King’s famous speech, King says “from every mountainside let freedom ring” – Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!” Because King understood that you can’t have an America which is partially free – in which there is freedom in New York, but not in Mississippi. That would be like saying that “I” am in my hand, but not in my leg.
And, that is what we mean when we say in our prayers every day, m’lo chol ha’aretz ch’vodo, God’s soul fills the entire world. We cannot say of God that God lives in the Ark, in the synagogue, but God is not in our homes or in our work or in our politics. That would be like saying that my soul, my “you” is in my arm, but not in my leg.
This is why God would not allow Moses to disengage, to remove himself from the Jewish people. God said: “Moses, freedom is not an abstraction, it’s not a soul without a body. You cannot claim to believe in freedom if you are standing here in Midian and your people are suffering in Egypt. You cannot separate who you are from what you do. That is what slaves do. You who have detached yourself from politics are no different than your brothers and sisters in Egypt who float above their bodies so they can tolerate their oppression.
And, the same is true for love. If slavery is the worst human experience, love is the best. It’s in love that our ‘you’ is truly appreciated. No one says ‘you’ more meaningfully than the one who loves us. That’s what Sam Cooke expressed so beautifully in one incredible word. There is no more exalted human experience than to be seen by another person who really sees ‘me’ and loves ‘me’ and understands the unique, indefinable essence of ‘me’. And, there is no greater experience than to be able to say you to another person and really mean it–to love another person that way.
Where is this mysterious love that we feel? As the Beatles said, love is all around. We cannot locate that love in one place or in one moment any more than we can say that we are in our arm, but not in our leg – or that God is in the Ark, but not in the forest.
Love is everywhere, like the “You” which fills our whole being, like the God who fills everything. When we love truly, we love ‘b’shochbecha u’v’kumecha’/by day and by night, b’shivtecha b’veitecha u’velechtecha ba’derech/at home games and road games, when we’re vacationing in Hawaii and when we’re cleaning out the garage together, when we’re watching a sunset, and when we’re cutting up vegetables together in the kitchen.
Allie and Joseph, may this be the quality of your love. May you find it on every mountainside: in the peaks and in the valleys, in the spectacular moments and in the quiet moments. May their always be harmony between the love in your heart and the love in your touch. May it be said of your love, m’lo chol ha’aretz k’vodo. That it fills your heart. It fills your soul. If fills your life.