Last Days of Pesach
One evening a family sitting down to dinner heard a knock at their door. Opening the door they saw 10 people standing there. “Who are you?” asked the family.
“I am Happiness (Simcha), this is Faith (Emunah), that one is Wealth (Osher), this one is Health (Briut), the tall one is Success (Hatzlacha), the muscleman is Strength (Otzma)” (and he continued to introduce the rest as well).
“We are your wishes,” they said to the surprised family, “but you can only choose one of us.”
The family debated, what is best? In the end they chose: Faith!
Faith entered the house… and all the other wishes followed after him.
“What’s this?!” the family wondered, “We thought we could just choose one wish?”
“Correct, said the other wishes, but wherever Faith goes, we follow right behind…”
On the seventh day of Pesach we commemorate the miraculous splitting of the Yam Suf and the final redemption of Bnei Yisrael. Our tradition tells us that at that moment of kriyat yam suf Bnei Yisrael reached a level of prophecy that would not be achieved even by great prophets in subsequent Jewish history. What was it that enabled Bnei Yisrael to reach this level?
Perhaps an answer can be found in a pasuk that appears in parshat Beshalach. There (Exodus 12:39) the Torah tells us:
וַיֹּאפ֨וּ אֶת־הַבָּצֵ֜ק אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצִ֧יאוּ מִמִּצְרַ֛יִם עֻגֹ֥ת מַצּ֖וֹת כִּ֣י לֹ֣א חָמֵ֑ץ כִּֽי־גֹרְשׁ֣וּ מִמִּצְרַ֗יִם וְלֹ֤א יָֽכְלוּ֙ לְהִתְמַהְמֵ֔הַּ וְגַם־צֵדָ֖ה לֹא־עָשׂ֥וּ לָהֶֽם׃
“And they baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, unleavened cakes which did not rise, for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.”
This last part of the pasuk triggers an interesting interpretation in the Mechilta (an halachic midrash on Sefer Shemot). There the Mechilta writes that these last few words are meant to convey to us praise for Bnei Yisrael. They could have said to Moshe “how is it possible for us to travel into the desert as we have no food for the journey?” But they didn’t. In a show of extraordinary faith they followed Moshe into the desert. It was that faith that elevated Bnei Yisrael to the level of prophecy they experienced at kriyat yam suf.
What does that faith mean? It means being able to understand that what happens in life is not always under our control and to place our trust in a source beyond ourselves. Whereas, when they were slaves in Egypt they could easily recognize that what occurred in life was not under their control, now being free from slavery should bring with it an expectation of control. We would have expected Bnei Yisrael to say to Moshe that they were prepared to go, leave Egypt and head into the desert on their way to the promised land, but first they had to get ready. Prepare the food, pack their bags, arrange for the animals to be fed and stop the mail while they’re gone. But that’s not what happened. Moshe said it’s time to go and Bnei Yisrael, understanding that this was not under their control but rather under the control of a God they hardly knew, dutifully followed. That level of commitment coupled with an acceptance that what was about to occur in their lives was not under their control brought them to this elevated spiritual level.
It’s not by coincidence that these days of our Covid existence provoke intense anxiety. We like to be in control. We’ve been trained since our earliest years that what happens to us is dependent on our own efforts. It’s distressing and disorienting to accept that we are living in a time where so much is beyond our control.
If we can pause for a moment to catch our breath, perhaps we can understand that there is a lesson to be learned from this lifestyle with which we are struggling. It is a lesson of Emunah, of having faith in Hashem most specifically when we realize that we are not in control. Yes, we are expected to do certain things. Maintain social distance, practice appropriate hygiene and seek medical care when necessary. While these measures will hopefully impact the spread of the coronavirus, we are all confronted with the recognition that there is still so much that we don’t understand and can’t control.
May the realization that our lives lie in the hands of Hakadosh Baruch Hu help to bring about a redemption for our community, our country and the world. May we merit to rise to the level of Bnei Yisrael and IY’H, find our way safely through the raging waters that confront us.
Ellen and I continue to wish you and your family safety and good health. Chag Sameiach!