I will tell you a story. It happened just a few weeks ago. One of my daughter's friends is a new chayal, soldier, serving in the elite paratroopers unit of the Israeli army. One day he and a few of his buddies walked into the kitchen on the base and noticed a woman sitting by a table with her 8 year old son. Surprised, they asked her what she was doing in the kitchen. Clearly neither she nor her son belonged in that space. She pointed to her son and told them, "My son has not long to live. His only request was that he get to be a chayal in the tzanchanim. paratroopers before he dies. We are here to fulfill his dream".
There is much to reflect on in that story. The idea of The Make a Wish Foundation is to do similar things for children dying in the United States. If chidren in America who tragically are dying are given a wish, they will wish to go to Disney World or sit on the sidelines with their favorite football team or spend a day with a celebrity. And why not, these are the typical dreams of the young. Here in Israel too, like in America, this boy wished to be with his heroes. Only difference is that the heroes of this Israeli boy are not the glamorous and the accomplished, the idols of the sports world and the media. No, his heroes are boys, perhaps just 10 years older than him, most who just graduated high school, who serve in the Israeli army and protect his country from harm.
I suspect the troops who encountered that dying boy will never feel the same way again about their military service. If ever they saw their service as routine and their work as common, no more. More than the gift the unit gave the dying boy did the boy give these soldiers. Through him they realized just what a privelege it is to serve as a soldier in the army of Israel.
We are approaching the holiday of Pesach. If your home is in any way like mine its a 'balagan' at this time. Cleaning, cooking, shopping, the home is full of frenzy. It's good to pause, if just for a moment and take perspective. What's it all about? Why Pesach? Yes, I know we were slaves in Egypt and we were made free. But that's a long time ago. So much has happened since, much of it pretty horrific.
My mother is 86 and alone for Pesach. She will not have a seder. It's not that no one offered to invite her or even make a seder for her in her home. But she says its too difficult to sit through a seder at her age. And besides, in her words, "I had enough seders in my life". If that's true for my mother at 86 how much more true is it for the Jewish People. How many seders do we have to sit through? We get it! We know the story. We know; we appreciate; isn't it enough already?
I think the story we told above provides us with a much needed perspective. Yes, we know the story. Yes, we know we were liberated from a slavery that seemed interminable. But knowing something, knowing a truth, does not in and of itself lead us to appreciate it. The soldiers in the Israeli army, in the story above, knew they were serving their country. They needed no one to remind them. And they knew their work was important. But it took the presence of this terminally ill child to bring them to a full appreciation of the unique privelege that is theirs, after some 2000 years, to serve in an army defending the Jewish State.
Each year as we come to Pesach and relive the story of the Exodus in word and symbol we re-enter the national experience and bring it to life. Our freedom, the gift of our ability to become who we need to become and to realize our potential as a a nation and as persons is no longer just a fact for which we express token gratitude. In celebrating each year the time of our liberation we affirm that freedom is not an expectation. It is not something to be taken for granted. No, freedom our freedom was a gift from G-d that might well not have been at all. We are priveleged to be free. And no matter how long ago it was, nor what has transpired in between, we are fortunate and priveleged to be free men and women able to serve G-d and live our lives with choice and opportunity.
I am sure that the paratroopers of whom we wrote earlier did not grumble the next morning after meeting the boy and his mother in the kitchen when they were woken at 6:00am for morning duty. Nor did they complain about the 20 kilometer hike they took the day after. At least for a few days these soldiers were so full of gratitude for the gift of being able to serve that they got past the petty complaints that might otherwise weigh them down. That is what Pesach is about for us. In re-entering the story we already know so well we
put our lives in perspective. All of a sudden all the disappointments and frustrations that bring us down seem less significant. We no longer dwell on what might have been in our lives that wasn't or what should not have been that was. Instead we take stock of the miracle of our freedom. We experience full appreciation for the basic rights that we have that were in no way certain. We feel the full measure of gratitude for G-d's gift , without which we would have remained slaves, never becoming a nation, compromised forever!
So Pesach is nearly here. We will soon complete all the preparations. Our homes will be made kosher for the chag. The rituals, and there are many, will be observed. We will wish each other a "chag smayach" a "joyous holiday". But let's not forget the opportunity before us. Let's use the holiday as intended, to re-experience our slavery and our liberation. If we can feel the fullness of our suffering in the long years of our enslavement in Egypt and sense the thrill of the liberation, if we can truly taste the bitter and the sweet and take nothing for granted, then this Yom Tov we can make joyous much more than the week of Pesach. We can actually put into perspective all the days of our lives with their attendant encumbrances. Through a proper experience of Pesach we can know happiness!
We live a miracle each day. We were slaves! We are free! How can we not be happy!