Sundown tonight begins the holiday of Passover, which celebrates the journey of the Jewish people from a place of bondage through years of wandering in the desert in search of a promised land. We tell this story every year as if we ourselves were on this journey and acknowledge the struggles our ancestors endured as they transformed themselves from a subject people who served human masters to a free people bound by the ethical and ritual laws given to them at Mt. Sinai.
It is easy to imagine the hope and excitement with which the Hebrews set out to freedom. Certainly they must have imagined countless times how wonderful it would be to leave their place of bondage and enjoy the sweet taste of freedom. But what soon happens in this journey? Uncertainty, fear, discord….kvetching and complaining. “Did you bring us here to die in the desert? Better we should have stayed in Egypt….”
Back when I was working a stressful job and frequently wishing I didn’t have to get up in the morning, I thought about how wonderful it was going to be when I could retire and how getting older would be an experience of freedom. While there is much about being retired and growing older that is positive, there has also been a lot of sadness that I somehow did not anticipate. This is not sadness that has a particular cause that can be addressed and possibly changed, but a general, organic sadness that underlies everything else. This journey, however long it may be, will eventually culminate in the ending of my life. This is not meant as a complaint or bid for sympathy. It is simply the truth.
Growing older is a blessing, and few of us would choose the alternative, just as freedom is a blessing and few of us would choose enslavement. As I have been spiritually preparing for Passover, I have felt many parallels in my journey getting older and the journey that my ancestors took through the desert. I often long for what has been left behind, frequently look around in bewilderment for road signs or landmarks that will assure me I am traveling in the right direction, and struggle to maintain the spiritual fortitude that makes the journey possible.
One of my favorite parts of the Passover Seder is “Dayenu!” Essentially it is a statement that each blessing or gift we receive in life stands on its own merits, and is “enough,” even when (maybe particularly when) it does not completely fulfill our needs or desires. It reminds us to stop and be thankful, to consider what we have to be more valuable than what we do not have.
This is not easy to achieve or maintain. But one of the important spiritual tasks for life’s journey is to try to live in a way that when we reach the end, we can say “Dayenu!”