The Blessing of Normalcy
Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )
This week's thought emerges from the stranger I met ever-so-briefly at the end of my driveway Thursday morning. While I was leaving for shul, the garbage man (or "sanitation worker" he might prefer to be called) remarked, "What a nice day it is." An unexpectedly upbeat comment from a man collecting trash at 6:30 AM in dark, damp 37-degree temperature. How strong could this guy's java possibly be to maintain (and express) such a positive perspective under such seemingly dismal conditions?
The answer, obvious enough, was the fact that this morning's balmy weather was a marked departure from the single-digit freeze-wave that gripped Monsey for the last two weeks.
Call it the theory of relativity. Call it the power of contrast. 37 degrees is a whole lot more pleasant when one can still feel yesterday's wind-chill in their bones.
Indeed, we have all experienced that surge of contentedness that invariably accompanies the removal of aggravation.
* * *
We once spent a Shabbos in a home where the oven beeped every minute, thereby managing to disrupt just about any vestige of restfulness. When, finally, eventually, the beeping halted, the ensuing silence was so satiating it called for the recitation of Hallel.
Ever been on a plane two rows behind an infant who's crying at the top of his little lungs? Then, suddenly, when the lil' guy has miraculously calmed down and the passengers (especially the parents) breathe a collective sigh of relief, we find ourselves that much more appreciative of our surroundings. You're still cramped on leg space. You're still awaiting the peanuts. But how golden is that silence.
In a nutshell, life becomes increasingly more fulfilling as we realize how little we truly lack.
* * *
This perspective figures prominently in our mindset as Jews. Many of our morning blessings, for instance, accentuate the immense gifts we possess by juxtaposing them with the woefulness of a life bereft of those very gifts. Hence, we don't just thank God for vision, but rather praise God for "giving sight to the blind." The ability to get out of bed, get dressed and simply move about our day doesn't seem like much to write home about until we consider the challenges and , frustrations associated with not having those gifts.
* * *
In this week's Torah portion, can you imagine the euphoric relief of the Egyptian population when the frogs finally stopped their incessant, nation-wide croaking? I envision that first frog-free morning and its impact on the Egyptians. "Yeah, sure is a lot of traffic in Cairo today, but at least there are no frogs!" "Yeah, the price of hummus is going through the roof, but anything's better than those slimy toads everywhere."
And that morning after the swarm of wild beasts departed, wouldn't life as "normal" be a reason to smile. After all, no wild boars breathing down my neck. No deadly scorpions or Siberian tigers on the prowl. Just normal is just great.
* * *
"Therefore, say to the Children of Israel: 'I am God, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a God to you; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt." [6:6-7]
In case you are feeling an inexplicable urge to lean to the left, you are correct; these four expressions of liberation correspond to the Four Cups of wine we consume at the Pesach Seder.
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the very first expression "I shall take you out" signifies God's removal of the Jews from the burdens of slavery even though they would remain as the Egyptians' chattel for another six months.
What kind of half-baked, watered-down notion of freedom is this?! We are not free to flee Egyptian borders and are already hoisting wine in celebration?!
The answer could be that relatively-speaking the cessation from back-breaking servitude was indeed a watershed transformation in the lives of the Jewish people. This initial stage of redemption was euphoric to the extent it marked a radical departure from the bitterness of decades-upon-decades of physical and emotional burdens. Are we home free? For sure not. Do we have what to rejoice over? 100%.
Carrying this notion into our everyday lives, on those days when we "can't complain," take a moment to appreciate how beautiful the view is from emotional and physical sea level. The mere fact that you are not in the hospital. That you have a closet full of clothes. The mere fact that so many things are not going wrong. The myriad number of hassles you don't have to contend with. These milestones are all too often lost in the shuffle of everyday life. When we take them to heart our capacity for gratefulness and positivity will undoubtedly be closer at hand.