by Rabbi Ilana Krygier Lapides
(AJNews) – My father, alev hashalom, used to tell a story about two brothers: one was a complete optimist, the other, a cynical pessimist, always able to find a problem for every solution.
The two brothers were so polarized that their father decided to balance them out by designing a special room for each. For the pessimist, the father created a child’s paradise filled with music, games, and toys. For the optimist, the father set up a shed outside and filled it with manure, a pair of rubber boots, and a shovel.
A few hours went by and the father, pleased with his handiwork, went to check on his sons. He first looked in on the pessimist and was stunned to see the toys were untouched and his son crouched in a corner of the room looking around nervously; suspicious and angry.
The bemused father then went to the shed to find his other son whistling a cheery tune with a big smile on his face, happily shovelling manure. When the son glanced up at his speechless father in the doorway, he shouted, ‘Father, isn’t it wonderful? With all this manure, there has to be a pony!’
My father told this story with a twinkle in his eye to explain his unwavering and often unwarranted optimism. For him, it was a victory of hope over cynicism and helped him explain that a positive attitude is the key to living meaningful, joyful, and peaceful lives.
His tale reminds me of the story of Pesach: the story of downtrodden slaves, denied their freedom, their dignity, and one would assume, even a smattering of hope for redemption. Their brutal existence is in the hands of a sadistic Pharoah with no respite in sight. And yet, into this dark and horrendous circumstance comes tiny sparks of light: two midwives refuse to kill the babies they deliver, a baby boy is placed in a basket and rescued, Moses is chosen by G-d to redeem his people.
Rabbi Jonathan Saks, of blessed memory, said, “Pesach is the oldest and most transformative story of hope ever told. It tells of how an otherwise undistinguished group of slaves found their way to freedom from the greatest and longest-lived empire of their time, indeed of any time. It tells the revolutionary story of how the supreme Power intervened in history to liberate the supremely powerless. It is a story of the defeat of probability by the force of possibility. It defines what it is to be a Jew: a living symbol of hope.”
When Pharoah’s hard heart cannot bear another hit and he finally lets the Hebrews go, they flee so quickly that they don’t have time to let their bread rise. This matzah, referred to as the ‘bread of affliction’ is actually the bread of hope; a symbol of the transition from slavery to freedom, from futility to faith.
For us today, experiencing another Pesach in the Pandemic, the annual reading of the miraculous story feels a little bittersweet. For those of us who have had our hearts broken this past year by loss, grief, loneliness, illness, isolation, financial devastation, hope is especially hard to come by, and who can blame us? And yet. Spring is coming, the vaccine is coming, respite is coming, if we can just hang on.
As we again Zoom our Seders and long for our friends and families, we see hope on the horizon – so close and yet still far away. We pray for this anxious and fearful time to be over (quietly, so we don’t give it an ahora) and that our loved ones will stay safe just a little longer.
The story of Pesach tells us that even in desperate, dark circumstances, hope can lead to miracles, courage is rewarded, and faith can bring us freedom.
For those of us optimists who see the glass as half-full or the pessimists who see it as half-empty, maybe we are all missing the point: like the proverbial four cups at our Pesach Seders, glasses are refillable.
Chag Pesach Kasher V’Sameach.
Ilana Krygier Lapides is an independent, non-denominational Rabbi and Jewish educator in Calgary, AB who focuses on crafting inclusive and creative Jewish learning opportunities and life-cycle events. She can be contacted at RockyMountainRabbi@gmail.com