What if you were given only five more weeks to live – not by a doctor who thinks he’s God – but by God Himself – meaning, the timeline is pretty definite. While you ponder that question, I will tell you what Moses did.
Moses, also known as “Moshe Rabbeinu”, which means, “Moses, our teacher”, spent every minute he could inspiring and teaching the Jewish people. This comprises the last Book of the Torah, known as “Devarim” (Deuteronomy), which is also the name of this week’s Torah portion. “Devarim” means “words” and so the Book of Devarim is a final recap of the Torah, albeit in the words of Moses.
Moses started off his recap, however, with a review of the events and behaviors of the Jewish people since leaving Egypt, and the review was hardly favorable. In re-telling the “incident of the spies”, where the Jewish people were afraid of entering the Land of Israel after hearing the fearful report from the spies, Moses reminded the people how they slandered God, by saying: “Because of God’s hatred for us did he take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us.”
Does God Hate Us?
In other words, times are tough – ergo – God hates us. And so, this whole thing was a sadistic setup from the start, where God pretended to free us from Egypt, only to deliver us into the hands of an even worse enemy.
Funny, but that’s not how I learned the story. That’s not the version we recite at our Passover table, where we tell the story of freedom, redemption and God’s love for us. So where is this complaint coming from?
Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, said that underneath this complaint was the distorted viewpoint that if God, in fact, really loved the Jewish people, then God would have driven the Egyptians out of Egypt, made them trek across the desert, let them be attacked by the desert crazies, and made them engage in years of battle to establish their homeland. If God really loved the Jewish people, He would have left us to live free and safe in the rich fertile Nile delta. Nice easy life. Sleeping on Egyptian cotton sheets. Endless melons, cucumbers and fish. Playing Egyptian Rat Screw (go google it). So why punish the victims? Just get rid of the Egyptians! Problem solved.
As soon as they left Egypt, the Jewish people were attacked. They had just survived a war with the Midianites – who tried to destroy them – and now they were about to engage in a 14-year war with the Canaanite nations in order to re-claim the Land of Israel. Life after leaving Egypt had its hard times and it was about to get harder. I hear the complaint, but are life’s challenges proof of God’s hate or evidence of love?
A Mother’s Blessing
I think an answer may be found in the blessing I give my daughter every Friday night. I lovingly lay my hands on her head and I ask that God should bless her like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Now if you think about it, how exactly were they blessed? They had lives of unbelievable challenges, hardships and adversities that seemed much more like curses than blessings. Why would I want any of that for my daughter?
So if I really loved my daughter, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to ask God to give her an easy life? God should bless her like… (hmmm, trying hard to think of a celebrity not in rehab, getting a divorce or in legal trouble). So I racked my brain to come up with a female figure of merit and distinction in any arena that would exemplify an “easy” life and I couldn’t. And not in the fictional world either.
But then I found her – a beloved and famous woman with the perfect easy life, the perfect body, long flowing hair, flawless skin, perfect boyfriend, great clothes, loyal subordinate friends, cute pink car – and carrying case. In case you didn’t figure it out, it’s Barbie.
So maybe I should ask God to bless her to be like Barbie, and to live a Barbie life. Now how does that sound? A perfect plastic life. And yet, that is what the Jews were complaining about. In essence, they wanted to live like Barbie and Ken – in Egypt.
Life’s Bigger Purpose
But God had – and has – other plans for us. He wants us to have a real life, a meaningful life, a fulfilling life, a transcendent and spiritual life, a life of purpose and service. God wants us to have a life where we overcome adversity, where we grow and choose. God wants us to be a light unto the nations and repair a broken world. As Rilke said, “The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” You can’t move up the ladder by being a plastic doll or yearning for a life of ease.
And so, while our forefathers and mothers didn’t have easy lives, they had profoundly meaningful and spiritual lives, lives that charted our very course and destiny, and whose qualities are embedded in our spiritual DNA.
Getting back to Moses, as the “Prince of Egypt”, Moses was on track for an easy life. Had he remained there, no one would ever have heard of him. More importantly, he never would have reached his potential and become “Moshe Rabbeinu”. A good life is not to be confused with an easy life. A quote by Thoreau sits in a frame on my desk as my daily reminder: “Be not simply good, but be good for something.”
On July 7th, as my daughter was in a plane headed for Israel for a 5-week summer program, the war with Gaza broke out. Instead of all of the “fun” activities planned, my daughter is making packages for soldiers, visiting army bases, going to Ben Gurion airport to welcome travelers to Israel and learning first-hand what it means to be a Jew in Israel. As rockets continue to pound Israel and the terror continues, I can only imagine how she will feel when she prays with thousands of people at the Wall on Tisha b’Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Temples. And so while my husband and I anxiously await her return, she is already in tears that she will have to leave in 2 weeks. It’s not an “easy” summer, but it’s a meaningful summer. It’s a “good” summer.
And so out of love for my daughter, I fervently ask God to bless her to be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, so that in a dark world which seems to grow darker by the hour, her light can shine even more brightly, and that faced with the adversities of life, she will grow and reach her potential and that her life will not just be “good” but will “be good for something”.
And as we face this collective adversity besetting Israel and Jews everywhere, may we not embrace the distorted and fearful thinking that life is a set-up by a cruel deity that delights in the plots of our enemies, but that there is a greater purpose and meaning in our struggles, and that one day there will be another redemption – a final redemption – where “evil will disappear like smoke”, where the Truth and Unity of a loving God will be evident to all, and we will live in internal and external everlasting peace.