What Re-Living the Exodus Teaches Us
It’s a typical day. Things are going along just fine. Then something happens that dramatically changes everything and turns your world upside down. A child gets injured, a parent falls suddenly ill, or you have a car accident. Suddenly, your whole life is put on hold. The small things you thought were important are now completely irrelevant, as you now must struggle to attend to the pressing matters at hand.
Rabbis often get those kinds of phone calls from others who suddenly find themselves thrust into crisis mode. Part of our seminary training trains us to remain calm and assume the role of – as one of my Pastoral Psych professors used to call it – the “un-anxious presence”. Such a crisis requires us to remain strong, calm and empathic while helping others to cope with whatever the stressful challenge might be.
But when an emergency strikes you personally, much of that training is to little avail. I remember back when my son Avi and I were in a serious car accident. It was quite horrible. For the man driving the car that hit us, the accident proved to be fatal. But at the time of impact, all I knew was that I was injured, had difficulty breathing, and felt I was going into shock. I struggled out of the vehicle to help free Avi from the car, but there was nothing I could do until help finally arrived.
In a matter of moments I heard the wail of sirens. Help had indeed come, and thankfully, everything turned out alright. Broken bones healed and the trauma subsided. But what made the whole dreadful experience bearable, was the familiar faces of friends who came to the hospital and comforted us during our time of need. Before that day, I don’t think I truly appreciated how helpful it is when a friend or rabbi simply shows up and stays with you during a period of crisis – but since that day, I understood much better.
We all experience rocky times in life. But when a friend shows up to take our hand and help us through, that load is significantly lightened.
In discussing the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick), the Talmud teaches us that each visitor removes 1/60th of another's pain. This act of kindness is actually a commandment incumbent on each and every Jew, not just rabbis. And especially in our day, where texting is more common that making an actual phone call, that "human touch" can be indispensable. So even making a phone call to let someone hear your voice can be a great comfort to those who are going through a difficult time.
In our Passover Haggadah, we read a passage which states: b’chol dor va’dor chayav adam lir’ot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza mi-mitzrayim, in every generation a person is to see him/herself as if they personally left Egypt. While it is not possible to actually experience the pain and redemption of our ancestors, we are supposed to try and feel as if we ourselves experienced the bitterness of slavery, and took part in the Exodus. This exercise helps us to better understand the enormity of those events.
Likewise, when we try to empathize and comfort others in their time of need, we go a long way in helping to make the world a much more pleasant place.
Part of what makes our shul such a wonderful community (and every shul carries this potential) is not just how we come together to celebrate each other's simchas, but how we support one another in times of need as well. That is an important lesson that Passover teaches us, namely, that when we identify with the struggles of our past, we are better capable to face the challenges that lie ahead, and to create the kind of caring community that will make our lives worth living and even more rewarding.
On behalf of Linda and our family, we wish you all a meaningful Passover holiday, and a Hag Kasher V’Sameyach with wonderful friends and family.
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman