Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mi Chamocha

Mi chamocha ba'elim, Adonai?
Mi kamocha, nedar bakodesh, nora tehilot, osei feleh?

"Who is like you among the gods," says the song, the one sung by the people of Israel as they walked to safely across the Sea of Reeds on their escape from bondage in Mitzrayim. "Who is like you, glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?" The first chamocha has the guttural ch sound, as they begin to cross the sea. They move forward through the waters, still singing, and by the time they get to the second, their mouths are full of water and they can no longer make the guttural sound. It becomes the hard k sound instead. And then, the seas part and they go on singing. Moshe's sister Miriam leads the women, dancing and singing with tambourines, safely on the opposite shore. Mi Chamocha is Miriam's song of redemption.

Mitzrayim is the Hebrew word for Egypt, and also translates as "narrow places." To a Jew, this is the definition of redemption: to be brought out of Egypt, the tight spot, the narrow place, into safety; for the waters rising over our heads to be parted so we can breathe, so we can sing the praises again as they were meant to be sung, with the full guttural sound.

When you are drowning in whatever is getting you, it's very hard to sing praises with a full-throated voice.

I think of Mitzrayim as the tight-fitting shoes of the soul. I spent years crippling around in those, trying to make things fit that were entirely wrong from me. I thought if I protested long enough, made the right arguments to the right people, things would change. The worst was when I tried to be a Catholic, not realizing that the post Vatican II hierarchy had driven the bus deep into ultra-conservative territory. But I had a vision of the nature of God that had come to me when I was 7 years old and I have spent my life searching for an expression of religion that matched what I knew in my soul.

I joyously stumbled through the Sea of Reeds and onto the shore with my tambourine three years ago when I innocently attended a welcoming newcomers event at Congregation Micah with my partner Laura and stayed for services. It wasn't my first experience with Judaism, but it was the one that I was mature enough to "get" on a much deeper level than before. I had spend a lifetime developing my contemplative chops, and here was the ultimate riff, to use a musician's metaphor. This one matched my childhood vision exactly. The more deeply I went into it, the more my heart sang. It was all there. I had literally heard the words "welcome home!" whispered to my heart that first night at Micah. I was, indeed, home.

My Hebrew name is Miriam. It was the name given to me by my Jewish mother-in-law 50 years ago, and the one I chose when I went to the mikvah. And I love to sing that song!

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