THURSDAY, April 5th
When God took B’nei Israel out of Egypt, He didn’t lead us straight to the land of Israel (or even straight to Sinai) though we could have arrived there in a matter of days that way. Rather, He took us by way of the Sea of Reeds. In this way, when the Egyptians pursued us, He was able to perform the miracle of parting the sea for us, and closing it behind us, making clear to one and all that the departure from Egypt was final and irrevocable. That sometime later, some of the people seem to have forgotten this, and talked of returning to Egypt only serves to highlight the necessity of making a clear and dramatic break with all that had come before. Had not a sea stood between B’nei Israel and Egypt it might have only been a matter of days or weeks until the people tired of wandering in the desert drifted back to the familiar lives they had led there.
I didn’t grow up observant, and one of the biggest challenges for me, when I started becoming religious as an adult, was the idea that I’d have to give up non-kosher foods. While I felt there was no particular food I could live without, it was very hard for me to say no to friends and family when they invited me over for food or invited me out to eat. I had always loved traveling, and exploring the local cuisine when I did so, and didn’t like the idea of visiting some strange country with a suitcase full of tuna fish and crackers. But this was only hard as long as I was not yet fully committed to an Orthodox life. As long as I was ambivalent about my level of observance, then each new invitation I had to exercise my willpower all over again to decide not to eat that food. Then one day, something shifted. I realized it simply wasn’t an option for me to ever stop keeping kosher. Suddenly it wasn’t hard to sit and have a salad or a drink while my friends ate other foods. It didn’t seem as ridiculous to bring my own food with me when I traveled. Sure, it still made me sad sometimes not to be able to join fully in social lives of my less observant family and friends. Sure, it would be nice to be able to visit a country and explore an unfamiliar food culture. But knowing that it’s simply not an option, I can let it go. It doesn’t require any tremendous exertion of will to restrain myself, because in my own mind and soul, I know these experiences are simply not options.
It is as if the walls of the sea had closed between me and my own personal Egypt. Each of us has issues we are struggling to be free from—bad habits, unhealthy relationships, whatever it is. As long as the behaviors and habits we are familiar with, which are no longer serving us, are present and available to us, we have to exert tremendous self-restraint to avoid sliding back into them, an effort which can be impossible to keep up all the time. If, however, we put a sea between us and that which is enslaving us, then freedom becomes so much easier to achieve. We can do this with an internal sea, deciding or realizing that our old, familiar behavior is simply no longer an option, or with an external one (refusing to keep a problem food in the house, for instance).
The more we can create structural barriers to help us, and the less we rely on simple will power, the more successful we will be in freeing ourselves, with God’s help from negative habits and patterns of behavior.