Posted on December 24, 2021
One of the cantor’s favorite songs is אני ואתה נשנה את העולם, You and I, we will change the world. It is an upbeat song by Arik Einstein — you and I, we will change the world and when we start, others will follow. It will be hard, but that is okay because we will change the world.
It is a beautiful song with a positive message. But what if we work to change the world and the world does not change? Or the world does change, but not in the way we expected? What if laws are undone and opportunities are lost and things are not going the way we worked so hard to achieve?
That is the situation Moshe found himself in at the end of parashat Sh’mot. His quest had, for the moment, failed. Not only did Pharaoh refuse to free the Israelite slaves, even for a three-day journey to worship in the desert, but also the workload of the slaves was increased. Straw would no longer be provided to them; they had to find the components of the bricks on their own, but their daily quota of bricks remained the same.
The foremen of the slaves were furious with Moshe and Aharon and told them so: Moshe was crushed. Here he had come to save the people, and he was just making their plight worse. “Why did You do this to the people?” Moshe beseeched God. “Things were bad enough before, and they are so much worse. Why did you send me to Pharaoh?”
The people had accepted Moshe and his mission almost immediately. They were ready to hope for release from bondage. They were looking for better days. They wanted him to change the world. So they took Moshe’s initial failure rather hard.
Moshe also took his initial failure rather hard. Moshe, who used to be a prince of Egypt, went to bring his people freedom. Instead, he brought them back-breaking and mind-crushing labor. He felt guilty. He was distraught. He almost quit on the spot, before the job of liberating the people had hardly begun.
We often start new ventures full of enthusiasm and zeal. And then the day-to-day reality sets in. Sometimes we find ourselves working harder than before. We find that our situation did not improve as much as we liked or as fast as we would have liked. We lag. We wonder if the enterprise was worthwhile, if we should have started it in the first place. We are tempted to throw in the towel – Lord, why did you let me get into this?
But freedom cannot be hurried, even if it is God who is calling the shots. Liberation from slavery takes time, as do so many valuable things in our own lives. Beginnings are full of enthusiasm; endings are full of excitement. It is precisely in the middle that we need to brace ourselves up, look to God for strength and summon our patience.
We can learn this lesson in the middle of the pandemic as well. It is going on much longer than any of us had anticipated. We are sick of it. We know that the day will come when we will switch our mindset from pandemic to endemic (credit my daughter-in-law Rachael Besser with this phrasing). Not yet. Hopefully soon. We will get through this middle.
Moshe’s quest had not failed. It just had not yet succeeded. More perseverance, more resilience, we will get there. You and I, we will change the world. אני ואתה נשנה את העולם,
Come and hear the Cantor sing it.
Come and sing it with the Cantor.
Shabbat Shirah services, Saturday, January 15th.