Are We There Yet? – Shabbat Inspiration – 20 March, 2015 • 1 Nisan 5775 by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, Congregation P’nai Tikvah

My childhood memories of family outings always summons up a picture of  a little girl/me, with glasses akimbo and tzepelech flying, sitting in the back seat of the car, nudging incessantly, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”  This particular line of inquiry seems to be a genetic trait that was inherited by my own children; but, truth be told, I suspect that it is a question most likely  ingrained in the family dynamics of a good segment of those here tonight…

Today is the first day of Spring (shehechiyanu), season so full of promise.  Although the trees are budding and blossoming and are filled with promise of full bloom, they have yet to yield fruit.  “Are we there yet?”  Not quite.

This week, we witnessed  elections in Israel and while we mark that milestone, it’s outcome leaves us with concerns about the relationship between Israel and the United States, the continuing nuclear threat from Iran, the now-up-in-the-air hopes for a two-state solution to provide some hope for the Palestinian people in the territories.  “Are we there yet?”  Not by the proverbial, long shot, or, as the Rugrats might put it:  “It’d take a mirable!”

But David Ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”

In two weeks, we will be remembering the miracles of Y’tziyat Mitzrayim/ the Exodus from servitude in Egypt.  We will be celebrating Passover—-Pesach/ the Holiday of the Pascal Lamb; Chag HeAviv/ the Holiday of Springtime; Chag HaMatzot/the Holiday of the Unleavened Bread/Z’man Cheiruteinu/the Season of our Redemption.

When you think of the miracles of the story of our freedom from slavery, what comes to mind?  (Give time for response….)

According to the Slonomer Rebbe, we had faith in G-d such that we perceived the plagues as miracles from HaShem, but the real miracle was that we had faith in the One G-d.  Having been in a state of servitude for some 400 years or so, how we could have faith, emunah, in G-d was indeed miraculous.

Clearly not all of B’nei Yisrael had emunah, as we know that some of our ancestors did not make it through the plagues.  That midrash always intrigued me.

Rabbi David Zeller (z”l) delivered a teaching from Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, whom he quoted as having said:  “B’mitzrayin lo adayin ha-k’lei shel yisrael, sh’hem k’lei ha-mochin, shelahem m’tok’nim b’tachlit ha-sh’leymut mach’nat tumat mitzrayim.”  In Egypt , Israel had not yet a “vessel of mind” to receive the Higher Light. In other words, when we were in Egypt not all of us were ready to receive, we an inadequate infrastructure in place for growth to happen in a balanced, integrated way.  On both a spiritual and physical level, one has to have the proper vessels to handle the immense energy of the Almighty.

“The holy Light is like the drug of death, if you’re not ready to receive it, “ said Rav Nachman.  Rabbi Zeller commented:  “That’s what the plagues of darkness and death  of the firstborn in Egypt were.  So one has to assume that if G-d’s Light had come down according to the vessels there to receive it, it would’ve been even more nightmarish, more disastrous than it was. “

So, according to Reb Nachman, as interpreted by Rabbi Zeller,
the true miracle of Pesach was that G-d intervened, the Light came down first, so to speak, even if the vessels were not prepared.  Why?  For the sake of the promises made to Abraham, see Genesis 15:13, the “Covenenat between the Parts,”  for had G-d not intervened mercifully, our people would not have survived.

Reb Nachman espoused the theory that G-d created the world only on the condition that G-d would be able to put Torah into the world and that there would be a people there to receive it.  (When we left Israel, after all, the freedom towards which we were moving wasn’t such that it was without boundaries;  we were headed for Sinai, towards a new socio-spiritual reality.  “Ivdu et HaSem b’simcha”—to serve G-d, hopefully with joy.

Let’s get back to this illusion (no pun intended) to the Diivine “Light,” to which Reb Nachman had referred.  In mystical thought, the great Kabbalist of S’fat, the Arizal, Rabbi Isaac Luria explained that before the world was created, there was a kav, a ray—one supernal, simple Light.  But the Kadosh-Baruch-Hu realized that the Light could not be known unless it strikes something opaque, in other words, until it is reflected.  But there’s a catch:  When G-d created the world, humans were endowed with free will, so the Light wasn’t actually automatically perceptible.  While free will gave us a certain density, an opaque quality, allowing us to “know” the Light, the reflection wasn’t sufficient…we needed perception.

You might remember from B’reishit, Genesis, that there were supposedly two trees in the garden.  One was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the other was the Tree of Life.  There’s a midrash that teaches that our servitude  in Egypt was to expiate the sins of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

O.K., so we are freed from Egypt and we travel toward Sinai to receive Torah (part of the Master Plan…remember?), and what do we do?  We blow it!  Moses goes up into the Light to receive Torah and we get impatient and build a golden calf, as soon as Moses is gone a few hours too long.  All we were supposed to do was wait at Sinai to unite spirit and matter…and we blew it!


Moses had brought down the first set of tablets, inscribed by G-d’s hands, but as soon as he sees  what our ancestors did, the making of the golden calf, the divine energy imbued in the tablets flies off the stones, and they become so heavy that Moses can’t hold them….and “g’valt” they shatter to the ground.  Moses has to go up the mountain, and laboriously transcribe them himself this time.  (Up the mountain, down the mountain, up the mountain, down the mountain—tzu shver tzu zein a yid/it’s hard to be a Jew.)  So, as Reb Nachman taught, “We get Torah not from the Tree of Life, but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we are fated to struggle these thousands of years with the duality.

Creation is made to reflect Light.  The nature of our servitude in Egypt, our avdut mitzrayim, is that we saw the object in the light, be we didn’t see the light in the object.  Judaism teaches us that this is our mission.  We are supposed to be an “or la-goyim”/a light to the nations.

Through preparing our homes….and our selves…for Passover.  Cleaning out the chametz/leavened goods in our houses and the chametz/puffery in ourselves, we prepare our vessels…both virtually and in reality.  We recount the story of our servitude in Mitzrayim/Egypt at the Seder to remind us both our historic journey and of our personal current journey, for who here has not experienced his or her own personal Mitzrayim…meaning, not just Egypt…but also “narrow straits.”  On the second night of Pesach , we begin to count the 49 days up to Shavuot, we count the Omer to emulate the historic journey from Egypt to Sinai, and to prepare ourselves spiritually to receive the Torah.  We are trying to move from seeing the object in the light, to seeing the light in the object.  Reb Nachman taught it in trying to become free from the incarceration of being slaves to the material world, we must, each one of us, move from the Mitzrayim of a limited vision, of a small mind, so to speak, to an ability to perceive, to expand our awareness.  To do so we must not only Spring clean our vessels, but get in touch with the spark of the Divine within ourselves, our Tzaddik place, as Rabbi Zeller might call it, so we can perceive the hidden Light within each other and in every bit of Creation.

So, I would ask….”Are we there yet?”

Shabbat Shalom….A good, Kosher, sweet, and meaningful Passover to all.