What's Stopping You?
Humans tend to have the bad habit of romanticizing the past and looking at it through rose colored lenses. Relationships and circumstances which are toxic become glamorized because we fear the unknown and our imagination fails to produce positive outcomes.
In last week’s Torah portion (Bo), the Israelites were freed from slavery. Yet, it did not take long before memories of their bitter slavery became blurred. Despite all the great wonders and miracles they experienced via G-d’s Mighty Hand, they were extremely distressed by every challenge they faced, so much so, that they lamented ever leaving Egypt.
They cried to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us - to take us out of Egypt?" (Shemot 14:11)
In contrast to the famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” the Israelites, once having obtained liberty, cried, “Give me slavery!”
Servitude, after all, offers a sense of comfort. Indeed, our own habits and routines are a form of slavery. We feel safe because we know what tomorrow will look like: We went to sleep a slave; we will wake up a slave. The burden of having to challenge ourselves is muted.
Even after G-d split the Red Sea for the Israelites and smote the Egyptians, they were overwhelmed by the challenges of freedom. They recalled Egypt with nostalgia putting a new spin on their former embittered lives: “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill!” (Shemot 16:3).
Pharaoh and his servants too, had short term memories. They seemed to forget the ten plagues which devasted their land, their animals and their people. Soon they too had regrets, they regretted letting the Israelites leave Egypt. Who would serve them and further enrich them?
My friends, we too like the Israelites and the Egyptians, have to recognize when something is over, when it’s no longer good for us. Not doing so is suicide on many levels, i.e., psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. Fear of change is nothing less than opportunity’s assassin.
If we don’t fight the fear of change in our lives and abandon the comfort zone, we will always be crying to return to Egypt. We will resort to choosing evil because we are more afraid to live than to die. Most of the Israelites preferred to worship Egypt’s useless gods of stone and to be slaves to certainty rather than to serve the Almighty in freedom and uncertainty wherein each day demanded renewed faith.
Fear or faith? It’s time to choose. And even though there are no guarantees that life will play out as we planned, a person of faith will always be walking with a “flashlight” to illuminate life’s dark moments for himself and all whom he encounters.
G-d did not give the Israelites enough manna from heaven to stock up their freezers for six months. They had to collect it each day anew (except Shabbat). If they saved it for the next day, it rotted, produced worms and stank. It was an exercise in faith. Would the Israelites fear tomorrow every night? Or would they sleep soundly and have faith that G-d would provide for them again the next day? Faith is like a muscle. Use it or lose it. Try and grapple the complexities of life on your own. See what kind of person that will makes you. You will rot like the manna when trying to overstock certainty.
The fate of a Jew IS uncertainty except for the certainty that G-d is always with us. Unlike the Nile which irrigated all of Egypt for millennia, its little neighbor Israel still must pray daily to Hashem for rain.
Some Jews refused to leave Egypt due to their lack of faith and fear of the unknown. They died in the plague of darkness. Apropos, because their lack of faith robbed them of light.
The Midrash relates that the Red Sea did not automatically part when the Israelites reached the Red Sea. The Israelites stood at the banks of the sea and wailed in despair. Then, Nachshon ben Aminadav courageously entered the waters in faith and only when the waters reached his neck did the sea part.
We have to stop sugar coating the bitter past. We have to see it for what it is and move on. As Winston Churchill said, “If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.
We are commanded not to return to Egypt. So why are you looking backward? Lot’s wife turned to stone because she looked back. Friends, there is nothing left for you there! “…For the Lord said to you, ‘You shall not return that way anymore.’”
"Don't be afraid! Stand firm and see the salvation of Hashem that He will perform for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again.” (Shemot 14:13).