A short time ago, the Jewish community celebrated Passover, the remembrance of the liberation of their forefathers from slavery. Prior to the Passover meal, the story of their deliverance is retold, in order to ensure that the next generation becomes aware of their history and learns from it.
In the course of telling the story, one sentence is repeated several times, “I want to thank the Lord for what he gave to me”, not to all the Jewish people, but to every individual. For me, that one sentence held special significance. It suggests that every individual is hand made by God, not stamped out like a silver coin, with hundreds of duplicates minted exactly alike. I believe that it is intended to help people see that, although all human beings shares similar characteristics, each person is somewhat different and that their very uniqueness needs to be recognized and valued. I was so struck by this hidden message that I thought it important that everyone ask, “In addition to Jewish heritage, what other lessons does the Passover story have to impart to me?”
From a psychological point of view, I see the Passover story as providing profound insight into how every human being comes into this world and is then destined to traverse various stages of development which will tax his mettle, determine his worth and influence the role he later plays in life. For me, the story holds several lessons which I’d like to share with you. From conception on through the first nine months of gestation, every individual is insulated from harm. Prior to being thrust into the world, he is cared for, nurtured and, in most instances, loved. In a sense, those nine months can analogously be seen as a period of plenty, a time for feasting, rejoicing and growing in an environment free of stress and demands. Birth, however, introduces this child to an extremely stressful world, filled with a myriad of unknowns, physical discomfort and fear. There is a flood, there is an expulsion from a land he knows, a change in weather conditions and, suddenly, the infant finds himself in a foreign land. One that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It is a frigid place, filled with bright lights and giant people, who gather and pass him from one to another, while making strange noises. They swing him from side to side in a rocking movement. They shove a nipple into his mouth and he suddenly has to work for any sustenance he receives. He may be liberated from his tethered environment, but he finds himself in a land of unknowns where, for the next two decades, he will be forced to wander in a desert, searching for a promised land called adulthood. A place where, he is told, he will experience peace and independence, be free of control and expectations and be able to thrive, grow and multiply without interference or demands.
But, that’s getting ahead of the story. In the Passover tale, the Jews wandered for forty years. In life, that number differs for every human being. Some people find themselves very early, in some cases, too early. Others find themselves too late in life. Basically, that’s what the wandering represents, a search for self. During that search, ask any child and he’ll tell you that adolescence and teenage years aren’t necessarily pleasant. They feel as though they’re enslaved, ruled by unbending parents, indebted because of their generosity, resentful over their lack of it and subject to their emotional whims, both good and bad. For them, the “wandering years” can be likened to a desert that is difficult to survive in. It is frequently emotionally bare, filled with hazards and hurts and devoid of the nurturing and care they previously enjoyed. But pre-adulthood is a stage of life that everyone must pass through until they are free of their serfdom and able to enter the land of milk and honey.
Similar to Moses, many of the parental figures who led you through your desert won’t accompany you or see your land of milk and honey. For them, as is often the case in life, reaching the goal isn’t their reward, but the journey that involves striving to get there is. Possibly, that is another important lesson for all of us to learn. There is another. The promised land isn’t all it was advertised to be. To be sure, you’re independent. You no longer have to take orders. You’re free to go and do and become whatever your heart desires. Some of you will, but some of you won’t. Because this “land of milk and honey” is a misnomer. Instead, it’s a land of opportunity. A place where all the skills you honed, wandering through your desert, can be put to use. If you failed to hone them then, you are pressed to relearn the lessons which you should have learned earlier to develop new means of coping.
You see, adulthood only affords you the freedom to exercise the opportunity for growth. It isn’t handed to you on a silver platter. You have to be capable, industrious and willing to work. You see, adulthood provides you the freedom to go out in the world, to excel, succeed and benefit from your previous years of wandering. It gives you the chance to put into practice, or to improve on the things that were passed down to you from your parents and to make your way an even better one than theirs.
To that end, it seems essential that every human being, at least once a year, reflect on their history. During that time, you have the option to complain about it, use it as an excuse for what you haven’t achieved, or to use it as a stepping stone that will enable you to love, care, give and benefit to the fullest in your promised land of opportunity.
So, next year when you celebrate the holiday of Passover, use the occasion to not only tell the history of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt but, also to relate the lessons that each of you have learned from your struggles in life. It is important for you to pass them on to your children, so that they have the opportunity to learn from your history, to aid them to become happy, more emotionally complete individuals who can build on what they learned from you to create a land of peace within themselves. A land they can one day pass on to their children.