Monday, 13 April 2009

Drowning in a Sea of Embarassment

Yet when you appear and dazzle –

I am almost drowned

In a sea of embarrassment

(From A.J. Heschel’s To a Lady in a Dream)


Be careful what you wish for.

Freedom comes at a cost.

Life, as a slave, for all its physical traumas, is spiritually empty. No decisions, no responsibilities, no matter.

Life, as a free person, for all its material attractiveness, is spiritually demanding.

This, of course, is why the children of Israel spent so much of their time, in the desert, wistfully remembering the ‘good old days’ in Egypt.


I have no understanding of why I was born here and now, and not as Jew in Warsaw in the late 1930s, or a Darfuri in the late 1990s. I claim no special merit resulted in my childhood being so full of parental love and opportunity. And, yet, here I am - enjoying a level of health, security and prosperity almost unknown, not only in the history of the Jewish people, but in the history of humanity. These are the great gifts of freedom. And I am almost drowned  / In a sea of embarrassment.


How should one respond to a gift of freedom beyond the dreams of my ancestors and most of the world.

Let me suggest two ways.

First – say thank you, bless, sing, even come to shul. We are at our very heart a thanks-giving people. ‘Yehudi’ - Jew – comes from the root ‘to give thanks.’ We say these words at the Seder, ‘It is our duty to thank, laud, praise, glorify, exalt, adore, bless, elevate and honour the One who did all these miracles for our ancestors and for us. He took us from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to festivity, and from deep darkness to great light and from bondage to redemption. Let us therefore recite before God, Halleluyah.’ We could all benefit by becoming more articulate in our giving thanks for the bounty we have.


Secondly – help tip the scales in favour of those who have less. Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 3:8) teaches that the whole world is delicately balanced between tipping onto the scale of merit or futility. Be a force for tipping the world to the side of merit. My e-mail in-tray fills up, this time of year with ‘Seder inserts’ – supposed to stimulate discussion and action around Pesach – fair trade, poverty in the developing world, gifts to feed the poor, Jewish and not, fight slavery both literal and (no less demeaning) figurative. There are some links below. Choose something to share at the seder, choose some cause to support on the eve of our own celebration of Freedom, chose one difference to inculcate into your lives in the year to come.

Ah – this freedom thing costs. But paying off our debt to our Creator, our people and the planet on which we live is both exhilarating and a worthy task for one who is free.


Chag Sameach and every good wish for a wonderful Pesach,


Rabbi Jeremy


AJWS – Fighting poverty in the developing world  -

A Jewish Guide to Fair Trade -

Hazon Yeshaya – Providing food and clothing for the poor in Israel -    


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