The lockdown in Israel is still on, and may continue for a third week. The number of people with Covid is still getting higher by the day, and the tragic deaths are becoming more and more frequent. The funerals are as always grim, sober, and most of all heartbreaking.
If you were to let yourself step back, and see the situation as it is, what would you say?
It’s hard to know. The one thing that you know is that this isn’t the first or last time that events were impossible to interpret as they happened. At times, they are easy (or at least possible) to interpret in the course of time. At times, they are not. This leaves you with the question of what Hashem wants from us, when we don’t really know or understand what is happening.
One way to answer the question is to think more deeply about ourselves, and our responses in a world that by its nature, is both good and bad. What does good really mean? What does bad really mean?
To my mind, good is synonymous with clarity, light, revelation, while bad would be synonymous with chaos, darkness, and concealment. This mixture isn’t easy to separate into segments. In the Torah, where we find the story of Adam eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the challenge involved eating. Once you eat something, it is part of you. Similarly, the chaos and the order, the light and the darkness, the clarity and the concealment are all there not only in the world, but also in you! How do you separate the components? How do you manage to rid yourself of evil, and retain what is good in yourself?
The effect of learning Torah and doing mitzvos is to strengthen the part of you that is drawn towards light. At the same time, you have to strengthen your emunah, your basic faith in Hashem’s presence, so that you teach yourself to find Him in simple daily life. The opposite is to let your body dedicate itself to the act of constant taking without informing your soul as to what it wants, how it will get it, and what the price really is. Being a chronic taker will turn you into a person whose repertoire includes most of the base desires. Did you ever steal anything? How about when you were a kid? If you did, you “invested” in chaos. You didn’t know it at the time. At that point, the core motivation was impulsivity and pleasure. The same would hold for an illicit relationship and similar moments of darkness when the spiritual side is silent.
Is this you?
Don’t worry! You aren’t a finished product. You all know the basic steps that let you return to what you were before these indulgences became part of your “normal”. Let’s say you don’t really think you have the strength for all three parts of T'shuvah"? Don’t give up. Even if you just feel regret, and never really completely wean yourself off the behavior because it’s too hard for you (translate: You are weak), the fact that at least your guilt and regret are honest, is enough to move you beyond the place you are now, and to let you have some clarity.
Suppose your issue isn’t’ desire, impulsivity etc. Suppose you have assimilated skepticism about Hashem’s involvement in your life, about the truth of the Torah or about whether or not keeping the mitzvos really changes anything. If this is you, you are potentially in a much more painful and difficult place. The reason is that you think you are right, which means that you may have managed to redefine darkness to mean light. At this point it’s harder to do Teshuvah. How can you feel regret and feel right at the same time? The answer here is to step back and remember who you are. You come from a people who have experienced Hashem in every step of their journey. The stories in the Torah are not myths. They happened. You can‘t tell thousands of people that they have all simultaneously suffered the same massive delusion. No one can convince a generation to accept something that happened in the immediate past as a true event that they actually experienced through the eyes of those who all told the same story. You may feel that the Torah is true. Emunah goes deeper than history. It’s part of your inner sense of not being alone, of looking at the most basic parts of you, the desire to love and be loved, and the universal awareness of meaning that takes you back to Teshuvah.
That’s what this week’s Parshah is about.
The Jews in Egypt were very blocked. The nature of their lives as slaves was dark, empty and painful in ways that we can’t easily imagine today. When they came close to crossing the line that would make them redeemable, the part of them that knew the truth was rediscovered.
They cried out to Hashem.
It wasn’t their Plan A. That was to wait things out until Pharaoh died, and then assume that the enslavement would end under the new regime. It didn’t’
Then the emunah that they had latent within them, as part of their spiritual DNA came forth.
Maybe it’s time that we tried this method.
Today’s Parshah tells you about the last plagues. Hosts of locusts stopped at Egypt’s political borders. That showed the broken, hollow, hoping against hope, Jews, that forces other than natural ones are involved. Nature doesn’t know what political borders are. The locusts did. IT was an eye–opener. Hail showed them that fire and water can coexist. They can unite to serve one Master. Just like darkness and chaos can be redefined as challenge, and light can be redefined as inspiration, and together they can lead you to Hashem. In the next plague, there were Jews who experienced the light that Hashem made accessible to them, and other Jews who identified so strongly with the darkness of Egypt that they wanted more than anything to stay where they were.
And to do
Just to stay where things are
And not alive.
Hashem guided them, and is giving us. You have choices to make.