I would like to share here some of the thoughts that went through my mind during the last few days, which included holidays and weekdays, days of joy, and days of sadness. Days when everything was mixed with everything and emotions were turbulent. And I know that the things I think and write contradict each other to some extent.
But this is our life and this is my life. A life full of contradictions and questions.
During these days we remember the story of the Exodus from Egypt – the great miracle of leaving slavery on our way to freedom. We are gathered around festive dining room tables – families and friends celebrating together. The Passover Haggadah story is read, told, sung, remembered – the great miracle. And we are thankful that we made the exodus toward freedom.
Then we say goodbye to the family and on the way back home we turn on the radio and hear about terrorist disasters. In one attack an entire family was sprayed with bullets. And in a second attack tourists were brutally run over by a terrorist behind the wheel of a car in Tel Aviv. Missiles in the north and alerts in the south. People race toward bomb shelters, and I ask myself:
“Is this our freedom? Is this how it is supposed to look? Is this how it’s supposed to feel? To sound? Is this what God intended when He brought us out of slavery in Egypt? And have we really been freed from the yoke of our enemies?
“And if so, then what is this thing that floods our lives on this Biblical feast of remembrance, on this holiday of freedom? What is this suffering? This fight? This endless and brutal death? And what does all this come to tell us?”
And I remain with these questions open. I don’t have an answer right now. In Judaism, questions are constantly asked, doubts are raised. It’s a way to sharpen and strengthen our faith. The questions lead us to a clear conclusion that above all there is divine providence, and without it we are nothing.
And you shall speak these things to your children
I have often asked myself: What is the essence of Passover?
After Moses takes the children of Israel out of Egypt, he does not talk to them about freedom, nor about the land flowing with milk and honey that awaits them. He does not mention even a single word about the desert journey before them. No!
Three times he repeats himself talking with them about the distant future and the days after the journey when they would be free in their land. But he does not talk about the land, nor about the society they are going to build. Nor about the duties that come with freedom.
One thing preoccupies Moses.
He talks to them about something they will teach their children. He talks to them about the questions that their children might ask them in the distant future when the Exodus miracles will no longer be before their eyes, and all the stories of Egypt will be a blurred memory.
Moses tells his brethren, the Israelites, to do the very thing that the people of Israel are doing to this day.
He tells them, “Tell your children the story as if it was you who came out of Egypt.”
Not as some dry and boring historical story. But rather as something alive and real. Let them experience again the drama of slavery and the Exodus – the story of the slavery and freedom of the people of Israel. Three times Moses repeats the importance of passing on the story and the memory from generation to generation:
“And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.” (Exodus 12:26-27 NIV)
“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8 NIV)
“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 13:14 NIV)
More than once I have written about the fact that in the Bible, where the stories are so condensed and focused, there is almost no room for emotions.
Therefore, when the text repeats a certain story or theme or command, this signals its importance, and should arouse our attention toward the central theme.
And the central theme in this story is that a nation needs an identity. And identity requires collective memory. And this memory is found in the sacred stories we tell about the Exodus. The strong connection between the generations is the story of those who came before us, and those who came before them, and before them…
And when we look back over the thousands of years that have passed from the days of Moses until now, we come to see how right Moses was. The story is still told today. The story is timeless and fills us with absolute knowledge about our identity. About who we are. We just have to accept it.
A hike in the Garden of Eden
And in spite of everything it’s Springtime now, with the celebrations and even with the difficult events. The weather is warm, and the blossoms are at their peak. So we went for a walk around the mountains surrounding our house. During most of the hike we walked on marked paths. This is what the law tells you to do, so that you don’t lose our way, and also to place limits on how much hikers will alter the landscape.
Then, suddenly we encountered a huge puddle that forced us to deviate from the marked path, and we walked into a tangled wood. And there inside I felt like I had met the Garden of Eden. Everything was green, with carpets of flowers in many colors and the chirping of many birds. The feeling inside me was as if I had returned home. A sense of ease and joy filled me. All I wanted was to lay my head on the ground and fall asleep, to snuggle up to nature, to stay there longer; to connect with this peaceful beauty, and absorb all the goodness of Creation. The connection between me and myself was powerful. The connection between me and nature was exciting. I felt the presence of God there.
When we finally returned to the marked path I thought to myself, “Maybe the Garden of Eden, this sublime feeling, is found when we walk outside the norm? When we transcend the normal limits?”
During the rest of the hike I was unable to recreate the feeling I experienced in the thicket, that I would have missed, if it wasn’t for the puddle.
And again I was left wondering and asking questions.
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