When my children were little they loved Curious George. We read his books, a stuffed George sat prominently on each of their beds, and we listened to the movie soundtrack on our way to school.
One song in particular is my favorite, the Jack Johnson and Ben Harper collaboration of “My Own Two Hands.” The gist of the song: we can change, we can repair, we can nurture all in our lives, all in our world with our own two hands.
True change, true redemption only happens when we actively do something to make it happen. We cannot be passive observers but rather active participants, manifesting it into reality.
Two examples from our history often quickly jump to mind when discussing this concept. First, Chanukah as we learn of the Maccabees' improbable yet triumphant defeat of the Assyrian Greeks and the rededication of the Temple. Second, Purim as our very own Queen Esther stands up to the evil Haman and his decree to destroy all the Jewish people of Shushan. But the first and maybe the most important and pivotal example happens in this week’s torah portion.
The truth is we all know the example but maybe never realized its true significance as it may get lost in the greater narrative that surrounds it.
In our torah portion this week, we are witnesses to that very moment when our people took their fate into their own hands as partners with God. We are right in the thick of the story of the exodus from Egypt, our Passover story! Pharaoh's heart is hardened and he refuses to let the Israelites go free. Plague after plague after plague the Israelites watch as God smites the Egyptian people until, finally, the death of the first born. Pharoah cannot take it any longer and sets the Israelites free! Hurray!!!!
There is an interesting teaching in our tradition that says actually not all the Israelites made it out of Egypt and that, in fact, many of the first born Hebrews were killed as well by the angel of death. And here is the pivotal moment: for the first nine plagues, the Israelites were passive observers as God brought down each affliction. However, with the tenth and final plague, the death of the first born, in order for the angel of death to passover an Israelite home, each Israelite had a job to do. Each Israelite needed to place lamb’s blood over the doorpost of his or her house as a sign to the angel. If the Israelite continued as solely a passive observer, he or she would meet the same fate as the Egyptians. In other words, this is the moment our people became active creators of our own redemption. And it is no different today.
I think we can all agree that right now our world feels chaotic, confusing, turned upside down. And if we want it to change, to heal, we cannot be passive observers. Rather, through the example given by our ancestors, we must be the active creators of our own redemption.