Racheli Barris
Racheli Barris

The journey toward redemption

In every generation one is obligated to see herself as if she too was taken out of Egypt. 

But where exactly in the story are we supposed to picture ourselves? Is it the night of the first Passover offering, when the Israelites were finally given permission to leave? Is it the actual moment of leaving Egypt when they thought they would never see their captors again? Is it the splitting of the sea when hope was lost and they were gifted a path through mighty waters? Is it receiving the Torah? Reaching Israel?

On seder night we proclaim that each of these moments would have been enough. But which one is the yitziah that we are supposed to embody?

My entire life I approached the seder thinking about Redemption as a defined moment you can point to. A point in time that blasts through darkness and is followed only by light, happiness, and certainty. As the global community inches its way toward relief and normalcy, I am learning that Redemption, however blatantly miraculous some of it may be, is a process that cycles through both hope and disappointment.

I think about the newly freed Israelites camping at the sea of reeds, so confident that the threat is behind them, only to turn around and realize that their oppressors are storming toward them. I think about crossing the sea and what it would have felt like to watch the enemy race unhesitating onto the paths I just walked, wondering when and how this pursuit will end. I think about living in the wilderness, technically free but also completely vulnerable. And I think about the years upon years of journeying toward a Promised Land that just doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. 

Today, with all the progress toward normal life that has been made around the world, I see myself as if I too have been redeemed from oppression. As a high school teacher living in New York, I have been blessed with the opportunity to receive the vaccine and can now move through the world with a little more freedom and a little less worry. At the same time, through the story of the Exodus and the Israelite’s subsequent journey in the wilderness, I am making peace with the fact that my Redemption is an ongoing journey punctuated by both hope and disappointment.

There are moments when I turn around and I still see the enemy pursuing me, threatening the physical and mental health of my loved ones. And each time I feel like I have hit the end, trapped between the enemy and the water, I somehow manage to put one foot in front of the other and find a path not yet trodden through the deep dark depths. I don’t know how it happens. It’s a miracle. 

Throughout all that has been lost I have found my People, the individuals in my community who have shown me deep generosity and support as we all navigate this unmarked path. Most importantly, they are the people in my life who at my lowest moments, when I feel I have utterly failed as a mother, spouse, and professional, allow me to come as I am. They sit with me without judgement, and listen even though they too are battling the same looming sense of despair. 

My people and I are bonded by the chronic trauma of cycling through the hope and disappointment of Redemption. Often the desert is too dry, the manna too bland. The journey feels endless, progressing too slowly. We do not control our journey, but we trudge along together. As a people bonded in dreams and desperation, we experience moments of elation: a drop in the numbers as we redouble our preventative efforts, a dose of a vaccine, a hug from a loved one we haven’t seen in over a year. Manna falls from the sky and it is wondrous to our eyes. These moments are revelatory and remind us that we are not blindly wandering. We are en route.

Then there are days when I can no longer remember the leeks, cucumbers, and melons of The Before. What was it that used to fill my days and made life normal? And when I lose my resolve and my soul cries out, “Why did you bring me here to die in the wilderness?!” my people surround me and show me that in a world where nothing is certain, we can find solidity in human kindness.

On those rare occasions when the world feels calm and my eyes and mind clear, I can see the process of our pandemic journey reflected in the Redemption of the story of Exodus. A Redemption of process, of stages building one upon the other. I breathe deep, try to focus on all that we already have trodden, and pray that, just as in days of yore, we too will be guided through this desert. 

About the Author
Racheli Barris has an MA in Bible from Bernard Revel Graduate School of Judaic Studies as well as an MA in Biblical and Talmudic Interpretation from Stern College for Women. Currently, she teaches Tanakh at SAR High School in Riverdale.
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