I remember the day I was ordained. My friends and I stood there, freshly minted rabbis, our careers well planned out. We had prepared for this day and our future! Funny, as that old Yiddish proverb states, “man plans and God laughs”. Well, God has been chuckling for years. That well planned out track, before too many years had passed, looked very different. Such is life!
This weeks Torah portion contains so many special moments, not the least of which is the moments scene at the Sea of Reeds, the crossing and the echoing of the “mi chamocha” song of celebration. (Exodus 15). But I wanted to focus on the very beginning of the portion, for when I reviewed it, that old proverb sprang to memory again. The portion begins with God deciding not to take the Israelites to the Promised Land by the most direct route. Rather, “God led the people round about, by the way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds” (Exodus 13:18).
I mention this verse because I think it fits in to so many of our experiences, especially as we look back on our life. How many of us can really say that our lives have been a linear exposition;
a straight line of living, along the lines we perhaps set out for ourselves when we left college or grad school? Life has had a way of getting in the way of those plans. Maybe it was a shift in career. Perhaps a transition from one relationship to another. Maybe an unexpected diagnosis that changed, in a fundamental way, the best of plans.A birth, or a death or an illness! Whatever, so may of us, as we look back, can see that the straight line of life was anything but. It has been often a spiral, in and out, up and down, often subject to the unexpected or randomness of existence. Look back and see how you have managed those changes, those unexpected twists and turns. That is how we acquire real wisdom. It is how we adapted to and dealt with those random acts of living that, in a very real sense, made us who and what we are today. And it is that cumulative experience that forms the foundation upon which we move into the future.
These stages of life are the “stuff” of our story. How we choose to see them, live them and embrace them really do determine who and what we are. The symbolism of this verse is very real, for, in avery real sense,it is the story of all of our lives.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.