A few weeks ago, I heard a d’var Torah about how, as the Israelites wandered in the desert, God appeared to them as a cloud during the day and fire during the night. As a psychologist, the speaker linked this with the concept of object permanence. This is the idea that when something is not in view, it is no longer remembered. This is why babies have so much fun at peek-a-boo. They have not obtained this intelligence yet and when you hide behind something, the baby thinks you are gone.
I was fascinated by this idea and when I happened to see the speaker at a women’s seder last week, I remarked that this idea had stuck in my mind. She asked me if I was also a psychologist. I said, “No, I’m a Jewish educator, but I have a cat.” We laughed as I explained that I thought cats were like pre-verbal children. Yes, they are more self-sufficient, but they have the most rudimentary communication skills, and they care about sleeping, eating, and most of all I think, they want human contact. And, as with our Max, cats do not really possess the intelligence of object permanence, so, for him, every day is a new adventure!
I’m sure that it was also like that for the Israelites wandering through the desert. Every day was a new adventure, and they needed a constant reminder of God’s presence. And while we are no longer wandering, and those biblical signs of the Divine are no longer with us, our liturgy constantly reminds us of our redemption from Egypt. Every morning and evening we sing the Mi Chamocha, a text from the Torah which the Israelites sang after walking through the sea to freedom. We also have reminders scattered throughout our liturgy.
Soon we will celebrate Pesach, our festival of freedom. As if the telling of the story at our seders is not enough, we are reminded of our redemption in the recitation of Hallel. Hallel, a series of psalms praising God, is sung every morning of the holiday. (Note: Hallel is also said on all festivals and Rosh Hodesh.) In addition, the Rabbis added it to the haggadah, with a little bit being recited before dinner and the rest after the meal. Why? It seems to me that one reason must be because Hallel is all about our being brought out of Egypt.
The word Hallel means praise and is comprised of Psalms 113-118. The Hallel begins with a commandment blessing to likro et hallel – to recite, to call out, these psalms. In the second paragraph, we joyfully sing the words of Psalm 114, B’tzeit Yisrael M’Mitzrayim — when Israel left the land of Egypt.
In Psalm 119, we hear the words, “Meen ha-mey-ztar Ka-rati Yah.” Often this is sung to a rousing melody, but in truth these are words of real struggle. “Out of the depths I call to you.” In the word, “mey-ztar” we see the same root as M’ztrayim, the biblical word for Egypt. It also can be interpreted as the “narrow places,” the of kind places that are difficult to leave. But the section continues, “who answered me by setting me free.” We praise God for bringing us out of Egypt. And then, “Od’cha ki ah-nitani, va-tihi li l’shu-ah — I praise You for having answered me; You have become my deliverance.”
So, we praise God for all of the ways that God has helped us, but it’s simply not enough. We want more. We plea “Ana Adonai Hoshea Na, Ana Adonai Hatzlichah na. Deliver us, prosper us.”
And I wonder, what have we done to deserve any thing that we are asking? Yes, we are dedicating this week to cleaning our homes and getting rid of the chametz within it. But what about our inner chametz? Are we able to toss away our prejudices? Are we able to clear out some space from our inner-selves to be kinder to others? Have we decided that if we cannot do more, we will do less? Or, as I once said myself, “Can’t I just write a check?”
Recently, Pat and I attended a Jewish event with music and dinner. When we walked in, the tables were all filling. In the corner, there was one table with a lone person, a woman without many friends. She lives alone and does not have many resources. She’s not what I would call a happy person, which is probably why no one wants to sit with her. Truthfully, this was not my first choice either. But Pat and I did sit with her and while I do not consider this any great act of humanity, I am not trying to toot my own horn here, she told her one friend how much she appreciated this simple act. It is amazing how a basic act of kindness can mean so much to someone who rarely sees it.
So as we enter this final week before Pesach, I would like to leave us with a kavanah, an intention:
Ana Adonai Hoshea na!
Deliver us oh God, so that we may be able to be with others in joy. Deliver us so we may see your wonders and make sure that no one is alone.
Ana Adonai Hatzlichah na!
Prosper us oh God, so that we may share our wealth, whether monetary or not, with others. And if we are wealthy by having someone to love, healthy children, a nice home and profession, help us to share our wealth of smiles and love with those who have none.
And let us say, Amen!