When you think about all the challenges we face it is easy to be cynical or just give up. Politics, the Environment, the Middle East; the list of serious issues is overwhelming, making it a great spiritual challenge to stay hopeful in a world with so many seemingly intractable problems. Thank God for Pesach because Pesach is a lesson in hope.
Let’s look at the story:
The Israelite’s seem doomed from the very beginning; a slave nation versus the most powerful person in the world.
First lesson in “hope”; don’t underestimate what a few committed people can do.
The revolution begins with Shifrah & Puah, the Egyptian midwives who refuse to throw the baby Hebrew boys into the sea.
What about that bush; what does it teach us?
Everything is holy even a lowly thorn bush, this is a great environmental ethic and a hopeful reality in itself; who knows where help will come from?
What else about the bush? It burns but does not get consumed…
That’s us! We’ve been through a lot but we are still here! Fire ultimately destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem twice, and the fires of the inquisition burned many and ruined even more. The fires of the crematorium, the Nazi murder factories, are unthinkable yet, even after that horrendous assault, we are still here. We are that bush that burns but does not turn to ash. We, our very existence, is a message of hope.
It takes Moses quite a while to believe in the promise of the future, to be the hope-filled leader he eventually becomes, but he does learn. Of course, it takes the Israelite – and they are us – even longer. They k’vetch and complain every step along the way; it’s hard to be a hopeful person when life seems so desperate.
Having grown up as slaves, the Israelite’s could not imagine being free. And even when they were freed from Pharaoh, their fear regularly drove them to other kinds of slavery like idolatry – the Golden Calf – or nostalgia, “if only we were in the flesh pots of Egypt…”
But the Exodus is “Hope 101” for the Israelites and for us. Think about it: “What does it mean to be a slave?” You have no control over your life. You are powerless to affect your destiny except in the smallest and most indirect ways. You are at the whim of your master. There is no hope in the life of a slave and that is what makes the freeing of a slave nation – the Israelite revolution – so potent. No wonder the Exodus has been, and continues to be, the archetypal story of revolution in the west, for it is brimming with hope. If a slave nation can become God’s chosen, then anything can happen. If a rag tag group of slaves can defeat the greatest super power of its time, then the promise of the future is real for all people.
Hope is all about perspective. “A hopeful person sees three answers where others see one…. To hope is to operate with the logic of water, not the logic of rock.” To leave the lockstep, linear realm of the logical and enter the domain of the imagination which, like water “flows around barriers till it finds a way through.” (Gershom Gorenberg, Jerusalem Report, 1994)
Here one can’t help but think of Nachshon, the guy, according to the Midrash, that does not wait for the sea to part. What does he do? He plunges into the water until the water reaches his nose and then, and only then, the sea parts.
“A leader is meant to be a master of hope,” writes Gershom Gorenberg, “Someone who finds a way, rather than explaining why history teaches there can’t be one.” (Ibid)
This is hard to remember sometimes. Lest we forget, we have the story of the Exodus and Pesach to remind us that the straight-jacket of history is really an illusion and that we are only truly limited by our vision and our courage.