Prayer to be recited at 10:58 tonight
I acknowledge your greatness and thank you for daily benevolence. With shame and humility, I declare before you that my prayers and requests are often selfish and self-serving. I fail to appreciate the multitude of blessing I have already received and the unending kindness bestowed upon my family and people. However, if you would be so gracious, I would like to ask one more favor; please don’t allow me to win the big lottery. As I already have more than enough I beseech you dear God to please bestow your blessing on anyone other than me. I know dear God, you must be wondering, if I don’t want to win why did I buy a ticket. Well, the answer is, that 36% of my $2.00 goes to help the government pay for schools and other essential needs of the community. A smaller percentage helps the economy by paying commissions and salaries for workers. And of course part of my $2 will go back to the IRS to reduce the debt that our country accrued bestowing its benevolence upon its citizens. Nu! A few dollars are also left to ensure your blessing to whomever you deem worthy, is not for naught. And if perchance, in your infinite wisdom you decide not to accept my prayer, humbly I accept that decision as well. Sincerely, Your humble servant
The Embellishment of the Fantasy
Even the Donald got trumped; for a few days, politics is off the table as all talk revolves around the largest Lotto Jackpot in US history. Stories about Isis, Al Qaeda and Syria are relegated to the back page while the average Joe fantasizes about what they will do with their new found wealth. While for the overwhelming majority disappointment looms (the odds of winning are 292 million to one), reality hardly dampens the spirits. This week’s Torah portion echoes a reality that haunts us till this very day. Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he is unwilling to capitulate. He is resolute in his stubbornness and refuses to let our people go. Moses, too, refuses to back away and proves to be an equal adversary. He is inflexible and dogmatic, insisting that nothing less than total compliance is acceptable. He states: With our youngsters and with our elders shall we go; with our sons and our daughters, with our livestock and cattle shall we go…
Imagine if things were different and we had the ability to rewrite history and modify behaviors. Contemplate a scenario where the ego of Pharaoh doesn’t rival the arrogance of Moses. Instead of confrontation, Pharaoh could have been more politically astute and supported Moses in his quest for independence. He would have been eternally recognized as the benevolent leader whose legacy is the envy of all. He could have publicly proclaimed that all Israelites who wanted to leave were free to go. Cool, calm and collected he could have understood that the Stockholm Syndrome would ensure that the overwhelming majority would happily remain slaves.
Or if Moses had decided to concede and compromise, he could have assured Pharaoh that he meant no harm to the delicate balance holding Egyptian society together. He could have foreseen that the majority of Israelites would refuse to depart and offer to take the small percentage that really wanted to go. This theory is backed by a strange Midrash that states that eighty percent of the Israelites refused to follow Moses. Their belief in God was questionable and they were unwilling to sacrifice the security of Egypt for the potential benefits of following Moses.
Sadly, we are rarely given the opportunity to rewrite the script. Perhaps we may tweak, but the director and producer are strongly committed to the story line. We may fantasize about winning lotteries or drastically improving the political landscape, but only the fool forecasts a future that relies on the certainty of failure. The cards dealt may be less than optimal, but should never be seen as a justification for apathy.
Whether putting on T’fillin or participating in a Seder, many of the Torah’s commandments relate to remembering the exodus from Egypt. It charges the Jew to keep the memories of our collective past in the forefront of our mind. Life may have been more enjoyable had God not placed obstacles in our path, but conversely it prepared the later generation to navigate through even stormier seas. I can’t blame the dreamers as I too fantasize against impossible odds. I imagine the day when Palestinians will understand that peace with Israel is in their best interest. I imagine a day when the European Union and United Nations will acknowledge the sins of their fathers and when they will unequivocally support Israel and condemn all forms of terrorism. I imagine a day when anti-Semitism will cease and all humanity will join together in brotherly love. Maybe I will purchase one lottery ticket. If I believe in miracles, why spend more than I have to.
Rabbi Jack Engel