This week’s Torah reading, parshat Vaera, begins the narrative of Moses telling Pharaoh to send Israel from Egypt. It is a recurring refrain in our text, ‘send My people out so they may worship Me in the wilderness’, says God. The insistence that new beginnings must happen in the desert –a place with no constraints, no reference points, no benchmarks.
But the strength of the wilderness also represents its greatest threat: no constraints, no reference points, no benchmarks. It is a disconnect from everything we know with only glimpses of what may come –it is shifting sands. Yet, it is the only answer to Egypt.
Leaving Egypt is not something we welcomed, it is a mistranslation to say, “Let My people go”, since the Hebrew always says, “Send My people out”. We don’t want to leave Egypt; we want to stay there but not suffer as slaves. Pharaoh is being told to expel us, not release us.
At times, the human journey is not one of slow evolution, but one of seeming disconnect. As modern Jews, we can feel the disconnect by living in two cultures, Jewish and secular, and we’re not always sure how they speak to each other. This Shabbat marks the beginning of the secular year 2022, and that marker alone can represent the disconnect for many of us. More than two years ago, in 2019, the world redefined, and we all thought things would return to normal if we could hold tight for two weeks. Weeks have turned into years, and we may still feel caught in the wilderness, circling in what seems like shifting sands.
These are the moments when the two cultures we live in serve to strengthen us. Rosh Hashanah, our Jewish New Year, focuses on the year that was, our reflections on the choices we made, as we pray for another year of time. The secular new year, Jan. 1, focuses on the year to come, with its possibilities and our resolutions –no reflections on the year that was. We do not want to choose which orientation to take, reflective or projective, we welcome them both.
Another calendar page turns, and while it may feel like a wilderness with no release, we remember that sometimes we are forced into a wilderness. From within that great expanse, we can stagnate, or we can reflect and transform.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.