Redeeming your miles

  • ParshaRabbiWidmonte
During the American Bush Administrations (both Senior and Junior), a tired old classic in Jewish humour advised the Israeli prime ministers of the period, to ignore anything the American president said, because, as the punchline went, the last time we listened to a bush, we ended up wandering in the desert for 40 years.
by Rabbi Ramon Widmonte, Mizrachi South Africa | Apr 06, 2017

Of course, in typical Jewish style, the punchline is bitter-sweet and conceals a deeper, wry truth, one which pokes fun at the Jews themselves.

As the Ramban z”l (Nachmanides) taught us so powerfully, the Exodus from Egypt is not essentially about a path from slavery to freedom, it is not mainly about a state of being where we were oppressed and then moved to a state of being where we were liberated from the hatred and pettiness of the master. Rather, the Exodus is a call to action for us, the Jews: a call to redeem.

As we progress through life, we encounter (often at the darkest moments of our lives) the question which has been asked by people of faith since time immemorial: “Does G-d care?” Does G-d care about the sufferings, small and large, which are the fate of humanity? And if G-d does care, why doesn’t He act to prevent it? How can a caring G-d, an infinitely powerful G-d not obstruct evil every second of the day?

The Ramban writes (essentially in response to this question) that the reason the Exodus happened and the reason that we entrench it so emphatically within our collective consciousness, the reason we sit at a seder each year and ensure that our children internalise the story, the reason there is so much energy invested in this and only this event, is because it shows that G-d does indeed care, and G-d does indeed intervene: G-d redeems.

But then comes the hard part (hard for us, that is). G-d didn’t redeem us from Egypt only because of our immediate suffering; He redeemed us so that he could become the “Model of a Redeemer”, a model whom we are supposed to emulate. The next stage of redemption is supposed to be one which we lead. G-d does not overtly redeem anymore because He is making space for us to do it.

We take it for granted today that the United Nations and governments should intervene to redeem and prevent the suffering of innocents. It is almost axiomatic in the Western world that we should not live on a planet where that redemptive spirit lies unchannelled by human beings. That desire is the legacy of the Exodus (notwithstanding the fact that we have delegated the task to organs so clearly incapable of fulfilling it.)

Have we stepped into that G-d-made space yet? Not fully, not yet.

It is true then, that we wandered that desert for 40 years and clocked up many a mile on the road, but the real question is whether we have redeemed those miles, internalised their lesson: that G-d has intervened, but that it is now our turn to step out; and if there is inordinate suffering and pain in the world, it is not because G-d has not acted, but because we, human beings, have not. Yet.



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