Volume 31 Issue 25 19 Aug 2022 22 Av 5782

From the Acting Head of Jewish Life

Daphna Levin-Kahn – Head of Jewish Studies High School

Out of the shadows 

When enslaved in Egypt, the Jewish people worked hard to survive – meeting quotas, staying ahead of the game, keeping it together. There’s a routine, it’s tough, but there’s a mission, a purpose to what they are doing, even if it is for someone else.

Then they are freed. God caters to all needs. For most of the 40 year wander there is no need to think about food, water, clothes (Midrash), where to camp, when to pack and leave and when to stop and set up camp – and even which direction to walk in. Battles are won by the lifting of Moshe’s arms… sounds idyllic. Right? Not exactly…. 

The newly acquired freedom removes all requirements to work to survive, and a form of learned helplessness or complacency takes the place of striving for a purpose. No goals are set or met, no tough decisions made and no seeming motivation for much of the day. In this atmosphere lacking in challenge and personal achievement, complaints abound, protest seems common, and at times outright mutiny (such as with Korach and his gang) despite – or perhaps as a result of – not having to look after themselves or work for anything at all. 

At the start of our parasha, Eikev, Moshe cautions the people to do God’s bidding and follow God’s commandments once they get to the Promised Land, so that they will be able to stay living and thriving on/in the land.

With these words, Moshe guides them towards realising they will have to tear themselves out of the apathy or lethargy from their learned helplessness as they cross over the Jordan to start their new “real” lives in the Promised Land. 

I have often wondered…is the end result – a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of plenty and peace, of military and financial success – the reward bestowed upon us by God, or is it actually the direct consequence of right action and of striving towards positive goals? 

Over the past couple of years, we have all had our lives almost fully directed – where to go and not go, what to do and what not to do, to stay home or limit ourselves to a 5 km radius, and then learning from home in lockdown conditions. For many, this lengthy period resulted in increased inertia, or, for some, learned helplessness, or finding that goal setting and striving to reach them was put in the “too hard basket” as it was just easier to lie on the couch and drain the Netflix well dry.

In the desert the Jews were in a holding pattern, standing in the shadows of their true potential. Once they stepped across the border, Moshe warns, they would have to step back into their full selves, reconnect with their individual and collective goals, set aims, find purpose and strive towards them – putting the “fight” back into themselves towards a meaningful and purposeful life. 

This parasha teaches us that, in 2022, our students (and many of us) need to work out how to step back out of the shadows of themselves, remember that they had purpose and goals, that they knew the elation of a positive result after hard work – rather than a positive result meaning increased isolation! 

The holding pattern of the COVID years was a cushy time in the “desert” and now it is time to get back to reaching potential and finding purpose and meaning.

Shabbat Shalom