There was never an expression that aggravated me more as a child than, “This too shall pass!” (Sorry Mom!). In my younger years, when the going got tough, it seemed interminable. I could not fathom how life would ever be the same again. As most young people, there were only absolutes: I will never find another … this always happens to me…and so on. This “all or nothing” thinking is a form of cognitive distortion that prevents one from seeing the bigger picture and putting things into perspective. It makes the glass always seem half full, never allowing any other truth in. Not only is it not helpful in times of difficulty, but it is contagious. Forecasting gloom and doom makes for better news, more exciting media. There is actually a documented societal preference for negative news. While the psychology of it is quite complex, the bottom line remains that no one buys papers to read about happiness. Consequently, the media we consume fuels our negative thought patterns, amps up our anxieties and exacerbates our fears.
Parashat Pekudei ends with the following: “When the cloud lifted from above the Mishkan, the Israelites went onwards in all their journeys, but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out until the day it lifted. So the cloud of Hashem was over the Mishkan by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel in all their journeys.” (Shemot 40:36-38). These are the final words of the book of Shemot. The construction of the Mishkan is complete and it is clear that it was constructed to be portable. Bnei Israel are now poised to set off on the next leg of their journey.
Rashi pauses on the repetition of the expression “in all their journeys”. The first instance offers the literal explanation of the signal of the clouds: when they appeared over the Mishkan, the people stopped and made camp, when they lifted, they moved on. The second phrase, though, is problematic. How could the cloud be over them when they are journeying if it only appeared when they stopped? Rashi explains that in Hebrew, the expression “Bekhol mas’ehem”, in all their journeys, is actually referring to the camps. Thus, the camps where they stopped are referred to as “masa” or journey because whenever Bnei Israel stopped, they would inevitably have to set out again.
Rabbi Sacks refers to Rashi’s statement as “the existential truth at the heart of Judaism.” Jewish history itself is a journey. Every stop in our story was merely a step of the journey, it was only temporary. It is the reason why the mishkan was made to be portable. Throughout history, we have had to move on, but no matter where we were, our faith moved with us. While other religions were attached to a specific location, he writes, not so the Jew. The Divine presence is with us always. The very word galut (exile) is the reason for the unparalleled strength of the Jewish people. We know that this is merely a stop in our journey, but we also believe that Hashem is with us (Rabbi Sacks).
Yalkut Eliezer teaches that as Jews, we are, each and every one of us, a living mishkan for the presence of Hashem. When things are going well, we should be thankful, yet recognize that it is a gift. On the other hand, in darker times, we must remember that “there is a fire with which Hashem can, in but an instant, light up [a person’s] life”. And that is, after all, the journey of the Jew: from darkness into light. “We are a light unto the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6) and we should not forget it!
The current pandemic is clearly a darker time. People are worried and concerned for the welfare of friends and family, our comfortable lives have been disrupted and we are filled with angst and uncertainty over what the next few weeks and months will bring. This week’s parasha is a powerful reminder that this is just another step in our journey. We have a long history as a people of overcoming hardships, living through difficult periods and surviving even the worst of it. Today is no different. Yes, we are worried, yes we are scared and yes, we are unsure, but it is also a powerful reminder that we should appreciate what we have, appreciate the people in our lives and hold strong to our faith because we, the Jewish People, are strong, we will survive and we have Hashem with us always. And, this too shall pass!
Dr. Laura Segall
Head of School