As we move through these middle days of Pesach, my kids are beginning to grumble. Just a few days ago, they were excited to share matzah with their classmates at school, and thrilled to be leading songs at our Passover seders. But now I'm hearing such whining: "I'm sick of matzah. When can I have a bagel and cream cheese again?!" My kids don't even know how right on cue they are!
As we move through these middle days of Pesach, my kids are beginning to grumble. Just a few days ago, they were excited to share matzah with their classmates at school, and thrilled to be leading songs at our Passover seders. But now I'm hearing such whining: "I'm sick of matzah. When can I have a bagel and cream cheese again?!"
My kids don't even know how right on cue they are!
In the Torah reading for this Shabbat (which is day seven of Passover), the Israelites are still trying to escape from Pharaoh. Despite the fact that they've just witnessed all of the signs and wonders of Egypt, they are complaining mightily:
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord. And they said to Moses, "Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, 'Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness'?" (Exodus 14:10-12)
We all know the story of what happens next. The sea miraculously splits, and the Israelites walk through on dry land. Just a few verses later, the Israelites are singing songs of praise: "I will sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously!" (15:1). And then, in the very next chapter, they're at it again, complaining and wishing they had never come on this journey at all: "Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt..." (16:3).
This story is such interesting insight into our human nature. As children, and also as a young nation, we are impatient and fickle, hardwired to have short attention spans and a relatively narrow perspective. Our moods change quickly, and it's common to go from the "best day ever" to the "worst day ever" and then often back again.
As adults (at least for most of us!) and also as a more "adult" Jewish nation, we can look back on our past and see our history in broader brush-strokes. In the rear-view mirror, the emotional ups and downs of the Israelites leaving Egypt seem to smooth themselves out a bit, and we can refer to the broader arc of slavery to freedom and use it as a paradigm for redemption.
That said, this week's Torah reading reminds us that it's not always so easy to keep the long-range view in mind. For those of us who observe the "no chametz" rule stringently, Passover's eating restrictions also feel a bit burdensome... but perhaps that little taste of discomfort is just what we need from time to time. Learning to live without every luxury to which we are accustomed helps us build resolve and grit. Keeping our eye on the larger arc of history can help us from despairing in the day-to-day bumps and set-backs (of which there are certainly many!).
May this Passover provide us with tastes of freedom and of discomfort in just the right measure to make us stronger, more grateful, and more ready to do the work of slogging through the wilderness on our way to redemption.
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.