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William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Wondering ‘When?’

Civic leader Omar Brownson was walking home one day with his youngest daughter. She turned to him and said, “Dad, I’m really grateful for this sidewalk.” When he asked her why, she said “Because it helps us walk home more safely, away from the cars and trucks.” Her mundane, rather pedestrian observation, reminded him of a poem: “Sidewalks are where errands and epiphanies can happen.”

We seem to be spending a lot more time running errands than pondering epiphanies lately. Days feel more dreary and less dreamy. Emotions like anger and fear seem more like essential attributes than the fleeting situational feelings they’re supposed to be. If only we knew when things would change for the better, once and for all.

Tucked into the early plague sequence in this week’s portion of Torah is a moment of asking when the plague will be lifted? In this case, the plague is frogs, the affliction that seems the least harmful and most child-friendly at the Seder. Interestingly, the frog’s ribbit-call made life distracting for the Egyptians, making it particularly hard for them to pay attention.

Moses says to Pharaoh, “Let me do a test to demonstrate God’s might, precisely when shall I pray to God to end the plague?” (Ex. 8:5). Pharaoh pleads for the next day. So it happens. Curiously, one commentator (Hizkuni) suggests that Moses is also asking by inference, “When will you let the people go free from slavery?”

Pausing to ask when questions feels very timely.

Let’s say you knew exactly when COVID infectiousness would end? Whether it’s two months or twenty months, how would this change what you do with your time? How would it affect where you’d decide to put your attention each morning? Well, perhaps you can still go out and live this way as if you knew the answer.

Human souls love when questions. They thrive in moments, in memories, and in relationships. When is God? is a much more intuitive question for the soul than Where is God? The great poet Emily Dickinson reminds us,“the soul begs for you to give it work.”

May 2022 provide each of us with a more agreeable rapport with time. Such agreement might find God taking our needs seriously in exchange for our taking God’s needs to reduce suffering and seed hope more seriously. May such recognition help us include a divine errand or two along our sidewalk strolls.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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