I have had an experience of a lifetime returning to Toronto after being away for the past 17 years. Following a decade as a rabbi in Toronto from 1984 to 1994, I made aliyah to Israel with my family in hopes of realizing our Zionist dream.
Judy and I found a home and a community in the southeastern part of Jerusalem, called Armon Hanatziv, and there we have raised our four children. We have said in our retelling of our “why we made aliyah” story that we didn’t actually abandon Toronto, but rather as a result of our move to Israel, we had to leave somewhere, and our having chosen to settle in Jerusalem was a great decision, which we affirm every single day.
We are about to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. At the time of the Exodus, the children of Israel were running from persecution in Egypt. They were leaving their lives of slavery, and it didn’t really matter where they were going. The Torah tells us that they left in a hurry – to get out and not to get to. Their destination, virtually unknown to them, seemed almost an afterthought. That the Israelite nation ended up in the Promised Land 40 years later and not right away perhaps was a result of the fact that they needed time to get excited about the prospects of being a free nation in their own land, one flowing with milk and honey. They needed to somehow look forward and anticipate with excitement what would be their future home.
There are many aspects of our lives that we can be excited about and look forward to, a phenomenon that is well known in our Jewish tradition. Our midrash teaches that when the Israelites left Egypt, they were told that 50 days later they would receive the Torah, so they started counting the days – literally – looking forward to that great moment in their history. This counting became and continues to be the practice observed by subsequent generations of traditional Jews.
With this in mind, I challenge us all to look forward by creating goals for which we can reach, instead of marking situations we wish to avoid.
Our vacations, for example, can be planned as a “going to” experience rather than as a “getaway.” It is hoped that the time spent on holiday is for investing quality time with family and friends and encountering new and different experiences rather than simply for “clearing the head” and “taking a break.” Graduation from high school or university might best be seen as a stepping stone on the way to the next academic challenge or the ticket to the vocational world, rather than a goodbye to a past experience.
The exodus from Egypt gave the Jewish nation the freedom to look ahead to the receiving of the Torah. May we always possess an outlook in life in which are looking forward in positive anticipation.
Rabbi Howard Markose is the interim senior rabbi of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto.