Two of my grandchildren were over for Shabbos. They are 3 and 5, redheads, and very much like Thing One and Thing Two (for those of you who are Dr. Seuss aficionados). When you are 5 and 3, black is black and white is white. Their father read the last psukim of Breishis, and they all yelled “chazak chazak”. It was a marvelous moment. Their absolute surety that they have a place in the Good Guy legion was never more real. Don’t you wish that you had that kind of belief in yourself? My two little ginger home-wreckers are gloriously undefiled. They are who they are. There is no gap between their potentials and their actuality. Can you say that? I can’t. For me, life is littered with crumbs of lost potential much like Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs.
If you are old enough to read this letter, you have at least a few pages in your History of Me that record fears, failures, and bad judgment. Nothing new here. When the Jews left Egypt they also were far from perfect.
Potentials are tricky. They are rather elusive, and slip by with lightning speed. You have potentials to use your time in a way that makes you a better person and the world a better place. Or not. You have potentials to exert influence (consciously, through example, or with such subtlety that you don’t even realize that you have had an effect. An example of the latter would be giving someone your seat on the train and generating a “new normal”). Another form of potential that sometimes escapes before you notice it’s gone, is time. Can you even imagine living a life in which every day was lived 24 hours’ worth of real living? All of this may sound like guilt provoking Bad News, but wait! Things are not as grey as they seem.
When the Jews were in Egypt 209 years, one year before the exodus, they were described as being on the 49th level of defilement. What that means is that all seven of the spiritual traits that we share with Hashem (which is the definition of a spiritual trait..), were corrupted. These traits (kindness, the ability to overcome obstacles (which is the source of courage and the kind of dedication that leads to heroism), truth (which is the ability to see both good and evil accurately), knowing that there is something bigger than NOW, gratitude, loyalty, and the ability to rule yourself, are inherently noble. They all interact with each other (for instance, to do an act of kindness sometimes demands courage), so that each of the seven interacts potentially with all of the others. This leaves you with 49 (7x7) possibilities. They also can be defiled. Kindness, for instance can be degraded if you give a homeless individual money to buy drugs. By the time year 209 arrived they had slowly come to a point that was a place of no return. Their traits had been “captured” by the bad choices that they made, and the society in which they lived. The gap between who they could have been potentially, and what they chose to become actually was vast.
It wasn’t the end of their story. You all know what happened in year 210.
It was the year of the exodus. G-d, who was there all along even when they were so far gone that they had no idea of how far gone they really were. When the time was ripe, He was ready to do miracles, open their hearts and redeem them. He believed in their potentials that much.
It’s important to know that no matter how concealed Hashem may seem (and the worst is when you don’t even know that He is concealed, because you no longer see anything but the material world, your emotional responses, and the pain of living a relatively purposeless life, and it all seems normal), He is there. If you can bring even a little bit of light, goodness, courage, to your dark place, it has far more meaning than the same act would have if the place in which it took place was lighter.
The next weeks are ones in which you read about the exodus if you follow the parshas week by week. It’s a time when the spirit of the potential of the Jewish People is renewed. It’s a time of redemption not just of the Jews who lived thousands of years ago, bot for anyone who wants it. They are referred to as “shovavim” which is an acronym for the parshas (SHmos Vairah Bo BIshalach Yisro MIshpatim. This year, since it is a leap year in the Hebrew calendar, there are 2 additional weeks,). The word means “wild ones”. In context it means that the part of you that has somehow gone wild, rejected everything real, indulged in fantasy or escapism, can be recaptured and restored to you, so that you can take charge of the path that you choose. You may very well wonder, “If I got myself lost yesterday, what on earth is going to change today?” The answer is that it’s not up to you alone. Hashem’s love for you is far greater than your love for yourself, and His compassion for you is much deeper than the kind of compassion that you have for yourself. This is the time when He redeemed your ancestors, and the doors are open.
One of the things that moved me deeply on my trip back to the States was how much choosing you all do. The choosing has many shades, from the Bnos Avigail girls who choose to maintain the standards that they had in seminary when they are in the secular workplace, and not content themselves with that but continue to grow, to learn and to stay bonded to each other, to the Neve girls who made choices that have changed them so much that their children (and for some, grandchildren) are “feeding” on the light that they brought with them to places that were darker than dark. J and E. Ch. M, TW, you know who you are, and I am talking to you
You are enormously inspiring!