Do you trust in G-d? Is that your first go-to option when you experience a setback?
Suppose your car breaks down, you lose your job, or your dental insurance lapses just before your child needs a root canal, is your first reaction, “In G-d we trust?” Sadly, for many of us, myself included, the first reaction is, “O my G-d, what am I going to do?”
We feel the strain of the moment and the pressure of solving our problem, but we need to remember a critical piece. G-d told us precisely how to respond to each life situation. The Torah is filled with commandments, instructions, traditions, and customs. It has something to say about every facet of life— there is no aspect on which it is silent.
The Torah is G-d’s manual. If we look to it for answers, we will find one in every circumstance. Except that these answers are not the first answers that come to mind when we need them. When we lose our job, the last thing we think to do is make a large donation to someone in greater need than us. When a diplomatic crisis breaks out in the Holy Land, the last place politicians seek inspiration is the Torah. What does the Torah know about realpolitik? Isn’t that funny? The Torah is G-d’s book. What does G-d know about politics? Is that even a question?
The Day We Left Egypt
Passover is one of the holidays that Jews love to celebrate. Even Jews who don’t celebrate Yom Kippur or Shabbat love to gather around the Seder table with family and friends. This year, as you gather, I invite you to reflect on the real-life crisis our ancestors experienced on their way out of Egypt. For us, it is a story. For them, it was reality. If we lived then, it would have been our reality, and we would have needed to make a difficult choice.
They had lived for over two centuries in the most civilized land on earth and resided in Goshen, the most fertile region in the country. Situated near the Nile River, irrigation was always plentiful. Yes, they had been enslaved, but Egypt had been crushed, and they were now wealthy and free.
They could have remained in Egypt and taken over the country. That would have been the clever play. Instead, Moses announced they were heading out into the desert with the matzah on their backs. More than two million people, including infants and children, set out on a journey that any sane person would consider ridiculous.
Moreover, there was a much more direct route from Egypt to Israel, but Moses led them away from the surest way. He led them on a long journey they had no realistic hope of surviving. Taking the direct route would mean crossing Philistine lands and, thus, inevitable war. But wars can be won. Even if they lost, a portion of the population could have survived. Heading into the desert was certain death.
Remember that they could not know what we know today. They were not foretold that mana would fall from heaven, a miraculous well would accompany them, and a panoramic cloud cover would provide shade for them and make the passage possible.
They knew only one thing. There is a sure path to survival if we stay in Egypt. There is a possible path to survival if we head directly to Israel. And there is a sure path to death if we go into the desert. The desert route had only one thing going for it. It was the path G-d directed them to take.
What choice would you make? If the options were presented to you today, what would you do?
Suppose you were stranded in an airport as the sun set on Friday night. G-d says bunk down in the airport without food or a bed and spend Shabbat right here. Reason and logic tell you that G-d would understand if you took a taxi to the nearest hotel with a restaurant. Which path do you think you would choose? More importantly, which approach do you think would result in a better, more rewarding, and more comfortable Shabbat?
There is no question that sane minds should have argued that the Jews were better off remaining in Egypt or going directly to Israel. Indeed, the Torah records many of these “sane” arguments over the next forty years. Yet, those are not the episodes that we celebrate on Passover. On Passover, we, sane Jews, gather to celebrate the insanity of our ancestors. Their blind faith in G-d. Their ability to say we are heading directly into a crisis, but in G-d we trust—no ifs, ands, or buts. In G-d, we trust.
You can argue that this is not the aspect of Passover that you celebrate. You focus more on the liberation from slavery and the message of personal freedom. But we can’t whitewash this part of the story. Moreover, I would argue that this aspect of the story is critical if you celebrate your freedom on Passover because this part touches directly on personal liberty. Are we free to do as G-d directs without fear of danger or do fear and desire chain us down?
Let’s look at the choice our ancestors made. They took G-d’s path and as a result, got everything they wanted. Yes, it was a long way around, but it was the route that led to success. They proclaimed loudly, “in G-d we trust,” and collected on that trust. Spiritually, they received the Torah, the tabernacle, and their mandate as the chosen nation. Physically, they conquered a land flowing with milk and honey.
They would not have received either had they remained in Egypt or gone directly to Israel. They would have bypassed Mount Sinai and, thus, would not have received the Torah. And they would not have had G-d’s miraculous assistance when they fought their wars in Israel. After all, this was one nation fighting thirty-one nations. Without Divine assistance, there is no reason to think they would have won. Moreover, had they remained in Egypt, they would never even have arrived in Israel.
Remember The Day
This explains why the Torah instructs us to remember the day we left Egypt all the days of our lives. Not just all the days, but all day every day. We are confronted by choices every single moment of every single day. Do we choose the “sane” path that reasonable people would take, or do we choose G-d’s way? Can we proclaim at every turn and in every aspect of life, “In G-d we trust?”
Can we let G-d have the final say on where and when we go on holiday? Can we give G-d the final say on which house we buy—the one within walking distance of the synagogue or the one with the lovely pool and hot tub? Can G-d get the final say on what we tell the insurance company after we get into an accident?
Can we say at each turn and moment, “In G-d we trust?” Can we open G-d’s book and look for His answers even when the question is financial, legal, or political? If the answer is yes, we have been liberated from Egypt. We have true freedom. And we will end up with the same kinds of rewards our ancestors collected on their way out of Egypt.