The Haggadah says that we saw God’s finger in the Exodus, and His hand at the Red Sea.
I never really understood this statement until I stood in Washington, DC, surrounded by fleeting cherry blossoms and massive monuments for leaders past.
The first shall pass, and leave but fruits behind. They are but a stage in a story; a lovely stage, a spectacular stage, but a stage nonetheless.
But the monuments will remain, reflecting not a fleeting event, but rather the way we remember it; not a stage in a story but rather the way we now tell it, not a triumphant experience but rather the way we see it when we look at it with the benefit of hindsight, finally able to appreciate the fullness of its reach.
As we marched out of Egypt, we tasted God’s intervention in history. We saw a glimpse, a finger, a partial fleeting sense of something greater still at work We tasted it in our sudden freedom from toil, in our marching feet, in the absence of whips. Did it burn down our throats like intoxicating spirits? Did it induce us with elation? Did it awe us into fear?
We marched. We felt.
But could we truly understand the scope of what was happening? Could we truly grasp the magnitude of God’s intentions, the way He introduced the possibility of freedom into the future minds of so many who will be, one day, oppressed?
Perhaps it took hindsight to appreciate what He wrought for us. Perhaps it took standing by the Red Sea, watching the might of Egypt as it crumbled, as “the world turned upside down” (the Hamilton reference seems apropos in Washington, DC), to see the completeness of the hand instead of just a finger.
The monuments in DC tell their own tales of liberation, and the message of the Exodus vibrates through them, ever potent. Jefferson’s memorial lists his many dreams of liberty, Lincoln’s memorial quotes the Bible through the text of the murdered president’s second inaugural address. Martin Luther King Junior is remembered for another liberation, and for stating, like the Torah, that liberation doesn’t mean only unchaining: it means an order that is just.
As I walked from one monument to another under the cherry blossoms, I saw what we can only see with hindsight: the Exodus is never over. The Red Sea is ever opening, ever ready to inspire us afresh.
Passover is over, but its message permeates our life. And as we survey human history, we stand by our ancestors. We see some of what they could see, with the benefit of hindsight, as they surveyed their own redemption by the side of the Red Sea.