This Shabbat is called Shabbat Hagadol, The Grand Sabbath, the Shabbat before Pesach. One of the reasons for this name is because this is the first time, while still in Egypt, on the verge of leaving, Israel willingly takes on the choice to fulfill a commandment. This means all the Israelites in Egypt cross the threshold of becoming an adult, becoming Bnei Mitzvah, and the meaning of Gadol, when speaking of a person, speaks of someone who is no longer a minor, someone who is a mature adult.
But being an adult, with free will, immediately raises a question of choosing a perspective. Life brings wonderful things to us, and can equally blindside us and bring tears to our eyes. We know both sides are in our path – we do not choose what will happen, we choose how we read what happens.
It reminds me of the old Jewish man who is lying in bed fearing the worst. He calls to his wife, Goldie, and he says: ‘Goldeh, things are looking tough right now, but I’m remembering our years together. I remember when we first were married, and suddenly our lives became hard, finding a place to live’. Goldie nods her head. ‘And Goldeh, I remember when we opened our first grocery store together, and we were robbed within a month.’ Goldie nods her head. ‘And Goldeh, don’t think I’ve forgotten that when we opened our second store together, it burned to the ground right after the insurance expired.’ Goldie nods her head. ‘And through it all, Goldeh, you were there, every step, every moment.’ Goldie’s eyes fill and she nods. ‘And so, my Goldeh, in this moment of dire reflection, I have come to an important conclusion…’ Goldie leans closer, ‘My Goldeh…I now understand…you’re bad luck.’
It’s not what happens to us that shapes us, it’s how we choose to view it. Ancient Egypt simultaneously produced slaves and leaders. Our texts show us that Moses becomes our spiritual giant, Miriam becomes the guardian, and Aaron becomes the peacemaker. Yet it is for us to choose what we see and where we focus.
This Shabbat is the 10th day of Nisan, the day Miriam died. Miriam, the quiet leader who brought us culture through her spontaneous song and dance; who brought us water in the wilderness through Miriam’s Well; who taught us guardianship as she protected her brother, Moses; who taught us to step into opportunities as she spoke to Pharaoh’s daughter and reunited her mother with Moses so they could bond.
Our Sages teach us that we were redeemed from Egypt on the merit of the Jewish women, and so my thoughts move to Miriam and Goldie. As Shabbat Hagadol leads us into Pesach, I choose to think of everything Miriam brought to us, and not to think of the great sadness they felt when they lost her. I choose to think of Goldie, so strong, so loyal, so misunderstood.
Our people is filled with Miriams and Goldies and Moses and Aarons. Regardless of how busy things can get, may we never be the ones who choose not to see them.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat —our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.
Also wishing everyone a meaningful, connected and beautiful Pesach.