A story is told, rebuking the Belzer Rebbe. He was approached by a woman in need, who asked for him to pray so she would find assistance. Instead of immediately assisting her, or denying her request, we are told he asked her if she had sufficient faith. Her reply? "In the Torah, it is written that God first rescued Israel (Ex. 14:30), and then they believed (Ex. 14:31)."
This story reads like a well-set up joke - but it is a deep statement about what it means to be a Jew: to kvetch; to use talmudic reasoning to cut through even an honoured Rabbi's question; and to be a Jew while still being able to wrestle with God.
This week's Torah portion moves us from a place of servitude to one of jubilation, and then back to precarious life in the wilderness with Amalek at our heels. In that difficult and challenge-ladened journey, there is a moment which we re-enact in every service- a moment when everyone is swept away by an ecstatic song and joy. The sea has just closed and Miriam the prophet takes her timbrel in her hand, and all of the women follow her, just as she has planned - and sing "Mi Chamocha".
For me and many of my colleagues, being a Jew is about questioning, kvetching, wrestling. And it is about the moments of togetherness, when every voice lifts off in song together. When the emotion in the room is lifted by music and it feels as if the Divine presence has no choice but join us in filling the room.
As we all engage in our own mix of Jewish living, I hope we are able to find moments when we can come together as a community and harmonise together as our ancestors did in that moment of salvation so many years ago. (PS: For information on singing with the choir, email David Jacobs <email@example.com> or Andrej Lipkin <firstname.lastname@example.org>.)