Monday, April 10, 2017

Why we do Pesach

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God our Lord took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
-Pesach Haggadah

With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, for His mercy endureth for ever.
-Psalms 36:12

The story of Pesach (aka the Festival of Freedom) is a great story. It’s been made into innumerable movies, and there are probably 1000s of memes. It is considered the greatest story of an escape to freedom of all time.

Yet the story of Pesach is not as simple as slaves going free.

There are two lessons that we learn from the story of leaving Egypt –יציאת מצרים —both equal in importance.

The first reason is two-fold, and again, both reasons are equal in importance: 1) to give us the Torah, and 2) to bring us to and give us the Land of Israel. The freedom that G-d gave us was not the freedom to go to Karaoke bars, eat sushi, and sunbathe on the beach in Thailand, but the freedom to do mitzvot in the His Land. That was His plan, and for us to remember this for all times, G-d gave us the mizvot of Tefillin and Mezuzah (read what the words on the inside say).

The second lesson that we learn when G-d took us out of Egypt is to show the nations of the world, once and for all, that G-d is in charge.

While He wants his creation, Man, to run the world, ultimately it is G-d who is in charge, capable of and willing to change the course of nature. Sometimes – many times – we don’t recognize His miracles, sometimes there are those who deny His miracles. But because of what He did for us in Egypt, we know that G-d is always watching us, caring what goes on in our lives, and – when we let Him – guiding us.
When G-d created the universe, all living beings knew that G-d was the Supreme Being. Yet, as time passed, people forgot that G-d was manifest in all things. There were those who denied G-d’s existence entirely, and there were those who agreed that G-d might have created the universe, but since then, He’s been on one long coffee break, and doesn’t really care what happens to us mortals.

By the time Bnei Yisrael were slaves in Egypt, suffering, weary, they were unable to believe that their salvation would come. The Egyptians felt that they were stronger than any god; that they could not be destroyed. Through great miracles, culminating in the splitting of the Sea, G-d brought Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. G-d’s greatness was recognized not only by Bnei Yisrael, but by all the nations of the time. In a once in a lifetime show, G-d changed the course of nature. To this day, we remember these momentous events, that with יד חזקה and זרוע נטויה, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, G-d brought us out of Egypt, out of bondage to serve Him in His Land.

These are bleak times. There are people who deny us our right to our Land. There are people who deny us our right and ridicule our desire to worship G-d. There are people who deny the very existence of G-d. Therefore, it is even more imperative to remember that G-d took us out of Egypt to do His mitzvot, to live in His Land, and to be a light to the nations. When all is going well, it’s easy to believe in G-d, but now, when godlessness is all around us, when we are weary and under attack, now is the time to turn to G-d, because only there is where our salvation lies.





Monday, March 27, 2017

Sweet Sixteen

The best substitute for experience is being 16
- Raymond Duncan

Our family is not big on birthdays. We always have cake, adorned with gummy candies, but we don't always get around to buying presents. The worst hit has traditionally been my youngest child. As the fifth kid after three boys, she's learned to live with her brothers' hand-me-downs, used toys, old parents, and lots of teasing. When she turned 16 a few weeks ago, her father and I did take her to the local mall and bought her some junk food to eat. 



 
What I did do for her, however, is write her a letter, which is something I did not do for any of the others. 
Her school arranged a four-day 'identity' trip for her class, where they discussed what it meant to be a Jew and an Israeli; the responsibilities this entails, the history that has formed us, the destiny that we share. 
At the end of the trip, the girls received their Identity Cards (teudat zehut), with much pomp and circumstance on the grounds of the Knesset building. All Israelis receive the card at the age of 16, but not all with such fanfare. In addition to the cards, the girls also received letters written by their mothers. 
The following was mine:

Your teacher asked all the parents to write a letter to you for this tiyul, as you are ‘coming of age’, being 16 and way old and all. I wanted to do something like this anyway, but, unless pushed, I don’t, because, you know, I’m way lazy.

First, let me say that I can’t believe you’re 16 already. When I was your age, I was stam a jobnik…

Here, there were two more points that I'm leaving out as they were personal, and, if published, my life would be in danger.

But enough mush.

I’m now going to dispense some advice. Listen carefully: 
  1. Forgive yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. People do. It happens. Learn and move on. 
  2. Forgive others. They make mistakes too. Unless they keep making the same mistake over and over. Then it’s time for you to move on and away. 
  3. Set goals. First Big Goals (e.g., I’m going to be rich and famous). Then set smaller goals to get yourself to the big goals. (e.g., I’m going to do my math homework and clean my room). 
  4. Set one Goal every day. It doesn’t have to be big, just something so that, at the end of the day, you feel that you’ve accomplished something (e.g., ‘today I’m going to make sure that there are no dirty clothes under the bed’, or ‘today, I’m going to wash all the spoons that are in my room’). 
  5. Be grateful for at least one thing every day; the pita in your chocolate sandwich wasn’t stale, or there was leftover chicken soup, or you got a seat on the bus. Life is richer when you recognize your blessings. 
  6. Dance like nobody is watching. Send text messages, whattsups, and emails as if they are going to be read in the Knesset and quoted in the press. (Ok, so I read that in a meme – it’s true anyway.) 
  7. Every once in a while – not every day, or even every month – go outside and watch the sun rise or the sun set. It will give you energy when you need it. 
  8. Drink lots of water. Then drink more. This will keep your blood pressure down, your skin young, and you will always know where the bathroom is. 
  9. Be kind. You don’t have to like everyone, heck you don’t have to like anyone, but you do have to be kind. Kindness breeds kindness. Be kind to your friends, and your teachers, and to the bus driver, and the clerk in the shop, and the hairy guy making falafel. If you are kind, others will be kind back to you and pay it forward. It’s a double bonus. 
  10. There are days when you’re going to feel bad, sad, or depressed. That’s life. When that happens, make yourself a nicecupoftea, or chocolate milk or a cookie, stand in front of the mirror, and wink at yourself. A big wink. It’ll make you smile. 
  11. Don’t do anything that you have to hide from those closest to you. My dad told me this a very long time ago, when I tried to sneak about 20 chocolate bars into my bedroom. If you have to sneak, it’s not the right thing to do. 
  12. Use sun cream and wear a hat. You know why. 
  13. Learn to say no. It’s ok, really. Say it kindly, but, when you need to, say no. 
  14. Listen hard and speak softly
  15. Have fun. Have fun at everything you do. Always look for the fun part. It’s there someplace, even in the most boring, dull, annoying places. Life is way too short not to be having fun every day. 
  16. Remember, always, that you are a creation of God. God does not create imperfect things. You are perfect as you are, no matter what you think. Your hair, your height, your inability in math, these things are not you. Don’t try to be something you are not, because God created you to be what you are. There is only one you in the world. Be the best you you can be. 

And there you have it – 16 points for 16 years.

With so much love,

Mom