A second Pesach, devoid of the traditional celebrations of the Exodus from Egypt, would have seemed unimaginable just a couple of years ago. But then it’s probably a blessing that we aren’t privy to what lies just around the corner. This is for two reasons: firstly, being finite beings we have to live life for today, according to the road map laid out by the Torah, and leave everything else outside of our control to the Almighty. After all, isn’t that what faith is all about?

Secondly, I firmly believe that we have been imbued with just as much knowledge as we need. Moses, the greatest prophet of all, was gently reminded of this when he wanted to go one step further in asking the Almighty to show him His ways. Moses was granted a limited amount of extra revelation – but only as much as he was able to absorb.

Perhaps there’s another dimension to this situation. Is it a test of how we are going to react when faced with a new set of circumstances? When the only way in which we are going to be able to exercise our free will is by not knowing what the future holds?  

The end of lockdown is here, bringing with it something else that resonates with the Egypt experience (and which wasn’t evident at lockdown last year): namely, a new definition of what we regard as freedom.

Looking back to the beginning of the pandemic, it is quite understandable that when our freedom of movement was suddenly curtailed and we were placed under lockdown for months at a time, we naturally felt aggrieved, many people calling it ‘an unacceptable infringement of our civil liberties’. Or was it an enforced breaking of what in many cases had merely become habit? If that is true, it is worth posing the following question: were we simply objecting to a change that was not of our making?

The similarity with Egypt is plain. Immorality and idol worship had become so engrained over a period of two hundred years that we were in danger of  losing our spiritual identity. This had taken place to such an extent that Moses’ first task was to try and convince his own people about the existence of G-D and the role that had been designated for the people of the Torah, well before the plagues that were inflicted on Pharaoh. In other words, slavery hadn’t just inhibited freedom of movement, but for many who’d grown used to their predicament, also the desire to achieve it.

The Exodus and the accompanying miracles were, therefore, not only intended to restore our faith in G-D but also to regain our willingness to prove our commitment through action.

Today, through the heavy and unacceptable high price paid for the pandemic, we’ve had to adapt to changing circumstances. Despite this, some of us – as in Egypt – do not wish to adapt and would prefer to have things return to the way they were before. For others, it is a different story. Flexible working hours and working from home has created a domestic and working revolution, bringing families together and creating a better and less stressful way of life. 

Having more time on our hands has also given us the precious opportunity to try something new, whether it be a creative pursuit or reaching out to help others and thereby enjoying a sense of togetherness that may have been missing from our previously over-busy lives.

The point is that, although circumstances are different, we are no less at liberty to choose how to live, and may actually find that our existence has become enriched as a result of exercising our free will towards new and meaningful goals.

Whether it was the Exodus or the twenty first century pandemic, the willingness to expand our horizons seems, traditionally, only ever to come about through adversity. The challenge for us and for future generations is that it will not be our destiny to remain so.

John Steinberg ©2021.  

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