By Rabbi Uri Topolosky
And the water became like walls, to the right and to the left.- Exodus 14:22
The Exodus from Egypt reached its climactic moment in the crossing of the Red Sea. Our Rabbinic tradition in the Midrash, the ancient commentary on the Hebrew scriptures, offers a twist in this tale, suggesting that it was not a single canal that opened to birth forth our people, but instead, “Chomot v’Chomot” – “walls and walls.” The Rabbis suggest that there were enough walls to create 12 distinct passages – one for each of the Tribes. This teaching is a thoughtful metaphor for our sense of Peoplehood – a reminder that we were born as a diverse people and must always recognize the unique paths of our individual members.
However, our Midrash continues and offers another inspirational detail to our story.Within each of those walls were embedded, “Chalonot v’Chalonot” – “windows and windows.” Windows in the walls offered the tribes glimpses of each other, so that even as one group moved along its own path, it would be cognizant of the greater family. The windows strengthen our metaphor and suggest that Jewish Peoplehood is not simply defined as a diverse community. Rather, each member must feel invested in the other and sensitized to the varied journeys of our people.
As each of our individual communities plod along our own paths, we must be collectively responsible to open windows in our walls, and see the whole of our Jewish family. There will be many reasons to celebrate as we peer through those windows, but we must also be willing to see into the shadows.
The Shulchan Aruch, our code of Jewish law, records a requirement for all synagogues to have windows and specifically writes, “It is recommended for a synagogue to have twelve windows” (Orach Chayim 90:4). It would seem that this design obligation is born out of our Midrash, and underscores the value of being conscious of the needs and struggles of our larger family as part of our Divine worship. In the case of domestic abuse, which so often lurks in those shadows of our community, we have an even greater responsibility to place windows in our walls. Our awareness that abuse exists, and then our dutiful acknowledgment of it, can be the window of opportunity a silent someone might need to reach on through for help.
Rabbi Uri Topolosky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Joshua of Aspen Hill and theRav HaKehillah of the Berman Hebrew Academy.