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.
This configuration rings true to me today. I picture volunteers in my community working shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen preparing meals for homeless “tent city” residents or a multigenerational group marching for justice and equality arm-in-arm, like a wall of planks.
In this quiet pause, it's awesome to be able to reflect on the theme of this week's holiday. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated widely in Israel, of course, but it does have a Hebrew name: Chag ha-Hodaya, literally, the Holiday of Gratitude (or thanks or acknowledgement). You might recognize the root word from so many of our Jewish prayers... it's conjugated into forms like "modeh ani" ("I give thanks") or "modim anachnu lach" ("We give thanks to You") or, perhaps most famous of all -- a line repeated during the Hallel service or at a bris -- "hoduladonai ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo" ("Give thanks to Adonai who is good, for God's lovingkindness endures forever.")
Last night, I went to bed with the mixed election results fresh in my mind. This morning, I woke up thinking about a powerful image that appears at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Toledot. In last week's reading, Abraham's servant had traveled to find a wife for Isaac, and he had selected Rebecca based on her incredible generosity and compassion (as our Moadon students have learned, she offered water not only to him but also to his camels!). This week, we meet Rebecca again, now pregnant and uncomfortable. She seeks divine intervention, and is told that two nations are struggling in her womb. In the pshat (the simple, plain meaning), this means that she is pregnant with a set of twins. On the level of drash (deeper interpretation), these twins, Jacob and Esau, represent two very different modalities of being, and it is these that are struggling within her.