Scale Everest. Tame crocodiles. Swim the English Channel. Whatever you do, you may find it less stressful than undertaking a long journey with your young children!
If you are a parent, the scene is doubtless familiar to you. You’d left your driveway barely twenty minutes ago, you’re starting to unwind, feeling the pleasurable anticipation of that break away from home you’ve relished for so long – and suddenly the magic is broken by the sound of a little voice (or two or three) at the back asking “Mummy, daddy, are we there yet?”
You somehow sense at that moment that this will not be the only occasion on this journey when your children will confront you with this question. Indeed you will be fortunate if, before journey’s end, that innocent question does not turn into an incessant whining, a monotonous chant or a nerve-shattering wail!
Our little children are blessed with many fine attributes but a sense of time and patience isn’t one of them. They are unable to determine if you’ve been on the road for fifteen minutes or fifteen hours. If they’re hungry, thirsty, bored, cramped or desperate to answer nature’s call minutes after you stopped to refuel, your nerves don’t stand a chance.
Are we there yet …..?
Inherent in the question our children ask is an implied sense of trust. They don’t question that we will be “there” at some stage. They don’t ask: are we ever going to get there? They merely ask if we are there yet. They want to be there now, not later. Because they are children.
Now let’s picture a less ordinary journey, the sort none of us should ever experience. It is the dead of night. The car breaks down amidst dense bush-land. There is no phone connection. A violent storm erupts, lightning flashes, thunder crashes, torrential rain beats down mercilessly. The children are frightened. You huddle close to them to comfort them but they can see you are a little frightened too, despite your best effort to hide it.
You are there all night. By the morning, the storm has subsided. At last you spot another motorist and implore him to get help as soon as possible. Eventually, help arrives. The car is jump-started and you are on your way again.
Now your children’s cries of “are we there yet?” take on a different hue. They are no longer ritualistic chants borne of boredom…These cries are real. The children have been badly shaken. They need the reassurance of being “there”, at journey’s end.
Yet, for all their fear and trauma, they still do not doubt that you, their parent, will get them “there”. Their trust (when they are still young) in you is unquestioning. They cry genuine tears but still they are convinced with an absolute certainty that you, their supermum/superdad who can do anything, are able to banish those tears.
We too, Am Yisrael, are on a journey. A long journey. It started at Mount Sinai almost three and a half millennia ago. Ever since Sinai, we have been crying out to our Father in heaven: Tatenyu, are we there yet?”
At times during our voyage around every continent of the globe, our cry has resembled the ceremonial cry of our children on a regular trip to the countryside. These are the times when our journey has been uneventful or even pleasant, the scenery attractive, the people we encounter friendly. We have never ceased to pray for journey’s end, but it has often been a ritualistic incantation. Empty. No tears. Maybe impatience at minor discomforts – it was never easy to be a Jew even in the most benign of foreign regimes. Maybe a vague sense of desiring what we couldn’t have. At times this took the form of a visionary longing for a distant, universal, utopian ‘tomorrow’. At other times it my have assumed the less noble form of a desire to assimilate, to be like everyone else, to throw off the burden of what made us ‘special’. That was the journey’s-end to which some of our brothers and sisters aspired (and still do). Total emancipation! It turned out to be a monumental wrong turning.
But there have been other epochs when that journey’s-end has never remotely come into view. There have been times when our millennia-long journey has been fraught with danger. Storms, hurricanes, tempests and more have raged in the darkness of long, cruel nights without respite; massive, dense forests with no clearing in sight and no-one with whom we could communicate. Our almost-3,500-year-old motor vehicle has been led down steep valleys and into back-alleys, driven into cavernous ditches and goaded into an abyss from which we felt we could never emerge.
Are we there yet!!!
The cries of the ashes of those who perished at Auschwitz, Treblinka and the rest pierce the stratospheres and merge with the cries of the survivors; ours too, for we are all survivors. The nightmare has left none of us untouched.
So when we pray, when we cry like children “Are we there yet?” to our heavenly Father , it cannot be – if we have understood anything of the last century – some vacuous, mindless, bored incantation that we are mouthing. It must be a cry that penetrates to he very core of our being. Ad Matai? Until when?
But for all our pain and trauma, let us not doubt for one moment that our Super-Parent for whom nothing is impossible will get us to journey’s end – rebuilt Jerusalem, universal peace and the brother/sisterhood of humanity professing belief only in Him!
We aren’t there yet. But we shall get there be-siyata diShemaya very soon. Bimheira be-yameinu. Speedily in all our days!