‘Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.’
— George Bernard Shaw
One of the most compelling images of the last decade was the toppling of the big statue of Saddam Hussein in Bahgdad (okay-the video we all saw was a re-staging for prime time audiences, but the point was made..). Long after the video clips faded from the broadcast rotation the images remained in our minds’ eye and symbolized radical change. Whether this change will be for the benefit of the Iraqi people remains to be seen, only time will tell. But, it was obvious that change did not come easily. Many people wondered, after the emergence of new corruption, random violence, and general unrest, whether or not they would have been better off back where they started, where they at least knew what they were up against.
The dramatic exodus from Egypt, replete with divine fireworks, open miracles, and violent upheaval also made an impression that carried far beyond the borders of the land itself. This massive display was a clear, indisputable sign that there was a new world order, and the Israelites would be designated as eternal witnesses to the events. References to our ancestor’s liberation fill our daily prayers, and the images
of the splitting of the Red Sea and of our pursuers’ ultimate demise are as notorious as if they were broadcast on CNN. Yet, why is it that the Israelites were drawn back into their captive mentality? “ …It would have been better to remain slaves to Egypt than to die in the desert.” (Ex. 14:12).
The Talmud in Pesachim 116b comments, “In every generation one is obligated to regard himself as if he personally had come out from Egypt.” The Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzrayim”, can be translated as narrowness, or confinement. Release from confinement is a change that brings with it some hard choices. The consideration of freedom of choice is an overwhelming experience. It is much easier to refuse to embrace change, to maintain the status quo, to never consider it at all.
This is just as true today as it was during the exodus. Spiritual growth and the evolution of consciousness demand a goal, a target. Without careful reexamination the goal can become obscured, out of focus. Prayer and meditation are tools our tradition provides to bring our targets into focus, and be strengthened in our resolve to change.
It is so easy to fall into an antigrowth holding pattern, or worse, regress and pursue activities that weaken us.
Perhaps the Talmud is telling us that change is not so easy to come by, that just as our ancestors struggled with belief, so do we. Just as the Israelites were tested in their resolve to accept change, so are we. “..The Israelites went out [of Egypt] high handedly.” (Ex. 14:8) Rashi tells us that “high handedly ”means “with daring”. The Torah teaches us that we can rise to the level required to stand tall and gain the upper hand in our struggles with our personal Egypt, encounter our own experience of freedom and a trusting relationship with the divine.
Can you spare some change? I dare you……