The metaphor, a dance, is based on my own experience of facing the loss of the person I love most in the world and losing my grounding in life. I was experiencing something that held an answer, and yet I could not see it. The fear and the anticipated pain were too great. In fact, it took me nearly 9 years to understand and reconcile what had happened inside me during that time.
As the events were happening, though, I could do only one thing – take care of Susan and our family as her prognosis grew dimmer and dimmer. I was blind and could not imagine the worst nor see past what seemed inevitable. Yes, multiple dilemmas.
The experience has since defined my life. My professional and personal passions now are based on those confusing and complex times. Now, together in our 55th year of marriage, life is so good that I occasionally think, Dayenu, this would be enough. If life ended today, I would go as a blessed human being.
The question then is how do people facing great personal challenges and tragedy continue in life and get to Dayenu? How do we not get discouraged, and give up on ourselves and lose faith in our future?
These thoughts come as I witness the horrors of the genocide in Ukraine.
I am led to a different understanding of the Passover story. It seems to be one of liberation and joy, God leading the people from slavery to freedom. I wonder, no I doubt that narrative. I think I think it might be better understood and the long struggle for wholeness and autonomy.
In Egypt, imagine, living in your homes, homes that went back multiple generations, back even when Joseph was there, and the Jews were treated well. Yes, life became difficult, and there was forced labor, yet clearly, the Jews lived in their own homes. Then comes Moses whose contest with Pharaoh ends up with a a series of plagues ending in a night of mass death. On that night, all around men and boys – firstborn Egyptian sons, are struck down. The sounds of tears and despair by Egyptians is deafening.
You couldn't sleep through the terror, and then you are told in the morning to pack up all your belongings and flee. Okay, some of your neighbors consider you a part of the plagues and give you gifts of gold, not out of appreciation, but instead of fear and to get you to leave. You pack-up what yo can, and leave behind most of what you own. You have no idea where you are going.
I think today of Kyiv and other towns bombed, buses and trains of families fleeing the horrors of the night. The battle for Ukraine is a battle too for freedom. We tell our story of Passover as if the Jews on the morning after were celebratory. I would think the opposite, that they were frightened and doing what they had to do to save themselves. They fled Egypt in fear.
As they traveled there are stories of great trials and miraculous survival. The Jews repeatedly had their doubts, and would often challenge Moses, and ultimately built a frigging Golden Calf. A total lack of faith and fear at that moment.
Some of those calf builders repented, yet many among them did not and as a result, died. The story says they were killed for worshiping the idol calf. I wonder though if that is a metaphor only for giving up in the middle of a battle between good and evil, and the reality that some always perish. It really isn’t their fault nor were they evil idolaters. Rather they stood for the tired and weary who could not continue the journey, it was just too hard. They wanted a magic idol to somehow bring them back to safety, while Moses was offering a long journey.
I think I will now always understand these stories differently. Not of miraculous events of God’s intervention and destruction of our enemies, but one of the inspirational feats of good people, to survive hardship and evil, and then to create a society of good and grace. Battles are fought, and not everyone survives.
We learn the process can take generations. I hope the dreams of Ukraine can be fueled by the Passover story. Not one of the miracles by an intervening God, but rather one of inspired grit and determination by good people to stop evil and find good. The people are the miracle. Dayenu