Redemption, Transition, Greater Value and Meaning.
Rabbi Marc A. Gruber
This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul. The author is unknown. A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strode through his backyard, baseball cap in place and toting ball and bat. “I’m the greatest baseball player in the world,” he said proudly. Then he tossed the ball in the air, swung, and missed. Undaunted, he picked up the ball, threw it into the air and said to himself, “I’m the greatest baseball player ever!” He swung at the ball again, and again he missed. He paused a moment to examine bat and ball carefully. Then, once again, he threw the ball into the air and said, “I’m the greatest baseball player who ever lived.” He swung the bat hard and again missed the ball.
“Wow!” he exclaimed. “What a pitcher!”
How do we develop such a cheerful, empowering, forward looking, life affirming attitude? To begin let us consider three elements – freedom, focus, and faith.
As Jews we celebrate redemption; it is a regular theme of our liturgy. We sing our song of redemption, the lunf hn – Mi Khamokha regularly during services. Each year the most celebrated Jewish holiday commemorates freedom and redemption; it is the holiday we will celebrate soon, Passover. In order to change we seek freedom from the past. We recognize that we cannot ever return to the past. If we return to the home of our childhood, it does not resemble as our memories. The house may appear the same, but the trees will be bigger. More importantly, we are no longer children. Our past provides our foundation and a feeling of rootedness important for the well-being of our souls.
If we dwell on our mistakes, we can hurt ourselves and others. If we cling to the past we will be unable to enjoy the present. We cannot change our history, but we can change our emotional association, feelings, and attitudes. When we are liberated from the past, we can transition to present. Many people have difficulty focusing on the present.
They seem to be planning for the next event before they arrive at the current one. Think about something as innocuous as channel surfing. So many people cannot watch what they are watching, but need to watch something else too. DVR’s, DVD’s, and on demand programming are somehow inadequate. We have succumbed to so many distractions. We cannot live effectively in past or future. We live in the present.
Faith in future can help us change and grow. Faith helps us to confidently map where we are going. When we sing the lunf hn – Mi Khamokha , we recall Miriam leading the women in dance with timbrels. The Torah recounts that miraculously our people crossed the Sea, but it does not say, “then God sent timbrels.” Miriam brought her timbrels from Egypt. That our mothers danced with timbrels, testifies to their faith. They believed that our people would have cause for rejoicing with music and dance. They believed in a greater power than we, God, who would help us find strength and succeed. A person of faith is never alone, but as we read in Proverbs, “looks to the future with cheerful trust.”
Moses, Miriam, and Aaron brought the people out of Egypt into a desert wilderness, a place of preparation. The children of Israel are recently freed slaves, their experiences in the wilderness help them to be truly redeemed and become the free people of Israel. Here the Jewish people spent thirty-eight of their forty years of wandering. It is here that God freed them from the slavery of Egypt and gave them the Torah, an event that we will commemorate when we celebrate the next festival after Pesah, Shavu’ot. It is in the wilderness that God forged us into a “priestly people and a holy nation.”
Only in the desert could the Israelites relinquish their slave mentality and begin to grasp the meaning of their freedom. Here, with pretense stripped away, they struggled with themselves and gave birth to a new nation. The wilderness was free of distractions that might block self-discovery and growth as individuals and as a community. They were forced to confront the naked truth; they could choose to flee from it and perish, or embrace it and grow. Fortunately, our ancestors chose transformation and bequeath to us the eternal and optimistic message of Torah; choose life.
The wilderness of Sinai is a metaphor for life. It provided a passageway from old to new, from slavery to freedom, from Egyptian bondage to the Promised Land. It was essential as a time to shed old values and build a new moral code, to relinquish old mind-sets in order to embrace the future. It was a time for closure on one period of life and entrance into another. As individuals and as a community, our Israelite ancestors had to transform themselves from one entity to another, and this required living in the wilderness because growing pains are often deep and excruciating and need room for expression, development, focus and perspective. Only then could they enter the Promised Land and make a land of promise.
The Biblical desert is unsettled. This is where we find ourselves when we are in transition. We feel a lack of definition and emptiness as our contexts disappear and our roles change. The comfort of the familiar, the home that had sheltered us is no longer present to us.
We can turn to the story of our people in the desert for guidance. How did the desert experience work for the Jews? How can the metaphoric deserts work for us today? The desert includes vulnerability and fear; it is also the source of revelation and creativity. As long as we are alive we are in transition.
As we prepare for our Festival of Freedom we recognize that the importance of our stay in the wilderness is no less significant than our Exodus from Egypt. Without this time and place of transformation, we would have remained a motley band of escaped slaves and riffraff. Instead we morphed into the free people Israel.
Only in the desert could the Israelites relinquish their slave mentality and begin to grasp the meaning of their freedom. In the wilderness they had to confront the stark reality and either perish or embrace this new set of conditions and grow from the experience. Fortunately, our ancestors chose the latter.
They shed old understandings for new insights and old ways of living for communal structures. It was a time for closure on one period of life and entrance into their future. Our Jewish community of the South Shore is facing a time for change. As individuals and as a community, our Israelite ancestors transformed themselves from one entity to another. May we be blessed that our celebrations of freedom become the beginnings of a time of grow and renewal
With best wishes from our home to yours for a meaningful and joyous Passover holiday.
B’vrakha (with blessing),
Rabbi Marc Gruber