WAYLAND, Mass. (Mar. 11)
Three thousand years ago, the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds — once. Today, the Haggadah instructs us to experience the seder as though we are leaving Egypt — every year of our lives.
Why is it that the Israelites had to face that sea, with the Egyptian soldiers in fast pursuit, only once, yet we are supposed to experience that exodus and extract ourselves from between a rock and a hard place again and again, year after year?
It hardly seems fair.
From the moment we enter this world, we are constantly changing. An infant groans and complains as he flails his arms and struggles to inch along on his belly. He whines and whimpers as he raises himself to his knees and rocks fruitlessly back and forth, going nowhere.
Then, immediately upon beginning to crawl, he is freed. His groans and complaints, his whines and whimpers all cease.
But the infant’s pleasure in crawling is short-lived. Before long, this mode of transport is no longer satisfactory, no longer sufficient. A speedier method beckons.
The crawling baby pulls herself to a stand. She wants so badly to take a step, to navigate that distance upright, but her body lacks the strength. It refuses to cooperate.
How to deal with the frustration? How to overcome this obstacle? How to reach that seemingly unattainable goal? She tries and tries, again and again and again, all to no avail.
And then one day — a miracle! Her body has changed, strengthened, grown, and she is able to take that step. With one step and then a second, her confidence increases, and so she keeps on struggling and trying, until one day she can walk with ease, she can run, she can jump. Her confidence soars.
As the years go by, the growing child constantly meets new challenges – - physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual. The child struggles and ultimately crosses new barriers.
As adults, our lives are also filled with new unexpected barriers. Obstacles arise before us and, like the groaning baby and the Israelites beside the sea, we often feel stuck, with no solution in sight.
An irrepressible inner urge may propel us toward a mid-life career change, risking previous financial security. A child may be born to us with a physical, mental or emotional disability, forcing a change in our vision of our future. We may make a serious mistake, on the job or at home, and unintentionally cause physical or financial harm to an undeserving person, perhaps even a loved one.
Each time such a situation arises, it hurls us — for a moment, a day or a year — back to Egypt.
In order not to get stuck in that emotional wasteland, in order to continue to go forward with our lives, we must leave behind our spiritual slavery. We must, with our kneading bowls and our unleavened bread, set out from Egypt.
And when we find ourselves at the edge of the sea, pursued by the soldiers of Pharaoh, like the Israelites, we cannot just stand and gape and wait for God’s help. Like the Israelites, in order to go forward, we must walk into the water, even if we don’t know how to swim, and keep on walking.
Then, only when the waves are splashing at our noses, and we are almost completely submerged, almost completely overwhelmed by what is happening to us and around us, only then will some unseen and inexplicable power part the waters, and only then will we see a clear way in front of us, a clear path ahead into the future.
At that moment of miracle, we will find the strength to trust ourselves in our new careers and take those financial risks.
We will discover previously untapped depths of love that enable us to deal with our child’s apparent handicap in a way that frees us rather than burdening us. We will, slowly but surely, find the ability to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, no matter how horrendous their ramifications.
The journey to freedom and away from spiritual enslavement does not happen in a day. It is a constant, ongoing and never-ending process.
If, for even a moment, we fail to take notice or we lose our alertness and our watchfulness, we may miss the next crossing of the sea. In that moment, our spirits can die. We can lose that chance, be forced to wait for the next and end up spending longer than necessary in Egypt.
And so it is wise for us to heed the instructions to feel as though we are leaving Egypt each year at Pesach, for the holiday provides a way for us to stay in shape, alert and ready for the next time in our lives, tomorrow or next week, next month or next year, when we will once again have to make that exodus in reality.