Between the Lines—Pesah Day Eight

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Charlie Schwartz


Exodus Rabbah 20:14

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשה כ
ד ד"א ויהי בשלח פרעה א"ל הקב"ה אני כתבתי בתורה (דברים כב) שלח תשלח את האם ואת הבנים תקח לך ואתה שלחת את האבות ובנים השלכת ליאור אף אני משלח אותך לים ומאבד אותך שנאמר (תהלים קלו) ונער פרעה וחילו בים סוף ואקח את בתך ואוריש לה גן עדן

 

"God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer" (Exod. 13:17). God taking Israel on a roundabout path can be understood through the following parable. There once was a king who had a son whom the king wanted to give an inheritance. The king said to himself, "If I give my son the inheritance now when he is still young he will not know how to look after it. Rather, once my son has studied and learned, only then will I give him his inheritance. And this is what The Holy One Blessed Be He said, "If I bring them into the Land of Israel now, they will still not observe the commandments, and they will not know about tithing of their crops, rather, I will give them the Torah, and then I will bring them into the land.

The last days of Passover take on a relaxed feel for me. With the cleaning done, the four cups of wine, Hillel sandwiches, and bitter herbs a distant memory, I tend to focus on the remaining festival days and the visions of fully leavened bread that are inclined to pop into my head. The midrash above, based on the Torah reading for the seventh day of Passover, creates a sharp contrast to this feeling of relaxation and matzah saturation. It seeks to answer the question of why God did not take the Children of Israel directly to the Promised Land. The answer provided is that the Children of Israel were not ready to enter the Promised Land, that the transition from slavery to freedom is a process and not an instantaneous transformation.

This process of freedom is as relevant to the modern Jew as it was to the Children of Israel. On the first nights of Passover, the weighty topics of tradition, freedom, and suffering are discussed around the seder table with the ultimate goal of enacting the lessons and ideals of the Passover holiday in our daily lives. But this integration of Passover into everyday life—defined by the struggle to keep Judaism lively and relevant, and by our obligation to fight against slavery and oppression—is not a one-time event. Rather, like the Children of Israel in the desert, it is a long process of slow and continual change and transformation.