This year is unusual in that the eighth day here in the diaspora falls on Shabbat. For the next number of weeks, our weekly Torah reading will be out of sync with that in Israel where this upcoming Shabbat will already be after Pesach. This underlines the distance between where we are and where we’ll eventually (במהרה בימינו Bimhayra B’Yameynu, speedily, in our days) arrive. (As an aside, it’s also the anniversary of my own Bar Mitzva!)
It’s not accidental, either that we in exile observe two-day chaggim or that this can lead to an extended period of reminder of how far we still have to come. For all our singing at the end of each seder, l’shana ha’ba’a b’Yerushalayim, for most of us it remains merely a song rather than a resolve and a pledge. We’re not alone, of course–throughout Jewish history, even though it was much more difficult at some times than it is now, Jews could make the effort to live in Israel and some always did. However, most of our greatest leaders through the generations never did. The great Rambam, who finally settled in Egypt after an earlier and less-well-known Spanish Expulsion in the twelfth century, occasionally referred to himself as one who daily commits the sin of not living in the Land of Israel.
While it is much easier today, with the establishment sixty-plus years ago of the modern State of Israel, there are still obstacles for many of us, especially those of us who do dream of living there. Sometimes these obstacles are significant, including financial (I’m not talking about those not willing to give up relative comfort in affluent western countries, but those who don’t have the financial resources to even get themselves, not to mention their belongings, there in the first place.) and family considerations. For many of us, it’s not just a matter of laziness or complacency or liking our “luxurious” lifestyle too much, but, rather, agonizing challenges and doubts.
It’s not coincidental that, here in the diaspora, the gateway to the eighth day is the seventh, the anniversary of crossing the Yam Suf, Sea of Reeds, physically leaving all of Egypt behind. The story which is filled in rabbinically from the written Torah is that we were filled with terror with the Egyptian army pursuing us from behind and a raging sea blocking our path forward. It was only after one Jew, Nachshon Ben Aminadav in this case, conquered his fear and relied on his trust in God’s beneficence, walking into the water until he was literally over his head, did the water miraculously part and allow our escape.
Our sages tell us that at that moment, even the lowliest hand-maiden experience a greater direct revelation of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, than did the greatest prophets of our tradition. Everyone was energized by this revelation and able to conquer their own fear and doubts.
I don’t think it’s likely that many of us can logically address our various fears which prevent us from pursuing our unique paths. In terms of my example for this article, moving to Israel, perhaps some folks can find a job before they actually move. Some very lucky people are able to go with all, or at least most of their family. But even solving those issues isn’t a guarantee that one will successfully integrate and find their place in Israel–trust me, I’ve tried in the past and have been, “back at the drawing board” for more than twenty agonizing years.
The lesson we all, myself included, need to draw from this upcoming holiday, is that the real key, counterintuitive as it might seem in our modern empirical, non-intuitive world, is trust. Trust that everything we’ve been taught for millennia about The Creator is true. That He really does have the world arranged so that we will, eventually, succeed. That He wants us to overcome our fears, which is why He places them in front of us in the first place, so we can experience first-hand that the Divine Will really is the foundation of the universe and not a mere after-thought dreamed up by “the religious”. Rather, if we can, like Nachshon, give our complete trust to God, we, like the hand-maiden, will directly experience life on the level of the miraculous.