Among the reasons that Jewish yoga and chant cultivate loyal followings is their focus on the body as a spiritual portal. After centuries of Jewish focus on matters of the mind (study) and spirit (prayer), we are rediscovering the spirituality of embodied corporeal life. Passover – especially the last day, when tradition celebrates the trek through the Sea of Reeds – calls us so deeply into our bodies that we can experience joy and freedom even in our bodies.
The slaves of the Exodus, whose bodies had toiled almost unto death, were ejected from Egypt in great haste, with no time to prepare or even think of the body’s basic needs (Ex.12:39). As Reb Nachman (1772-1810) taught, Passover’s first day is about transcending bodily limits. Passover’s last day goes even further. On this day, the fleeing slaves reached the Sea of Reeds, blocked at the water’s edge but pursued by Pharaoh’s army. Trapped between them, the Haggadah recounts that Nachshon ben Aminadav walked into the water, and only when he went so far that the water reached the face, threatening to overcome him, did the waters part.
The Slonimer Rebbe (1911-2000) taught that Nachshon’s spirituality was the most exquisite form we humans can achieve, such a quality of loving faith as to empower the body to leap into the sea, confident even in our bodies that the waters will part. What would it be like to feel spirit so deeply in our bodies that our “walking into” can become a “walking through” by force of faith? What if spirit so infused our bodies that song were to flow out of us as freely as breath (Ps. 35:10)? How would this kind of liberation feel in our bodies – not a faraway faith, not just a mindful conceptual understanding, but a freedom so giddy that our whole bodies resonate with joy?
It doesn’t matter what our bodies are like, whether we’re young or old, however able our bodies may be. Passover reminds that our spiritual journeys from narrowness to expansive joy call us forward not only in heart, mind and soul, but also in body – the real corporeal lives we actually lead, each in our own way. As we journeys through the narrows this season, may joy penetrate even our bones so that songs of liberation can flow through us and into the world.
Rabbi David Evan Markus