Min HaMeitzar – From the Narrow Place (January 2021 KOL)
We live in a liminal time. We are, right now, in the “in-between.” We are trying desperately to be finished with what has been and trying hopefully to come into what will be. We live in the doorway, on the threshold, between the past and the future.
This is where we are with the pandemic. We have come through its initial stages and we can see the outline of its end. But at the moment, we are trapped in the narrow space between them, a time still rife with danger. We know too many people who have suffered, and even died, from the disease: our family, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow congregants. We are not yet done with suffering and death. We can see the other side, but we are not there yet.
The month of January itself is a liminal time, an in-between time. Named for the double-faced Roman god of transitions, January is nominally the start of a year, but really is a link between two halves. On a school calendar, it marks the change between semesters. In the winter, it is the narrow place where the onset of colder weather happened not too long ago and the first hints of spring are still awhile away.
We are experiencing a liminal moment in our cycle of reading Torah. We have left behind the family history of Genesis and now enter the story of the Exodus. The word in Hebrew for Egypt, Mitzrayim, shares a root with the word meitzar, meaning “a narrow place.” In the coming weeks, we will read of being trapped in slavery, captive in Mitzrayim. It is only by the end of the month’s readings that we will eventually emerge out from this narrow space, passing between the walls of the split Sea.
“Min hameitzar karati Yah,” says Psalm 118, “From the narrow place, I call out to God.” Our Jewish community knows what to do in liminal spaces, when we find ourselves in doorways between what was and what will be. On doorposts, we affix a mezuzah, a symbol of God’s Presence and blessing. We consecrate the in-between space.
We are living in narrow spaces, in liminal times. We see this on our calendar, in our Torah readings, and, most especially, in dealing with this pandemic. How do we endure through narrow times and liminal spaces? We affix a mezuzah of faith and consecrate the doorpost of the in-between. We call upon God’s Presence to sustain us, and the presence of our community to see us through. We have come through narrow places before. And with God’s help, and the strength of the community, we will once again.
Rabbi David S. Widzer