Are We There Yet?

I don’t recall much from my childhood, but I can clearly remember those moments when my sisters and I would climb into the back seats of the family car as we’d be setting out to visit relatives, and the cry would carry forward to my parents in the front, “Are we there yet?”

More accurately, I recall those occasions when I was old enough to appreciate the question as a recurring joke. After all, at that point of my life the signs along the way had become familiar: the Howard Johnson’s off the Merritt Parkway; the Charter Oak Bridge bypassing Hartford; the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike; the ramp onto Route 128. Even as a child, I knew how long was the trip, and what was the time of our estimated arrival. And I’d certainly recognize my grandparents’ driveway on West Roxbury Parkway to know we had arrived.

In the second month of the second year of the Israelites’ wandering, they do not yet know that they will be destined to wander forty years. I can imagine the children asking with each leg of the journey, “Are we there yet?” Even with the commandments as a guide, new rituals for drawing near to God, and the structure of a community that encamped as one, I imagine a lingering uncertainty that gnawed at even the most faithful. After all, so many of those commandments were given to be observed in the Promised Land; when would we get a chance to put them into practice?

In these days of confusion and uncertainty, I am reminded of that child in the backseat, before the question was posed for a laugh. Impatient, cooped up, unable to measure the passage of time, his anxiety is compounded by the fact that there seem to be no lanes on the road; that every driver is traveling at a speed of their own choosing, changing lanes at will; and that we are all supposedly heading towards the same destination with no one actually knowing its address.

As we approach the holiday of Shavuot and the celebration of receiving Torah, I appreciate more than ever the teaching of the Kli Yakar (Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz of Prague, 1550-1619), who offered that the Torah avoids explicitly naming Shavuot as the occasion of the Torah’s giving so that we may view every day as the day of revelation. Reflecting from the backseat of this journeying vessel, I question whether the destination does in fact lie somewhere ahead of us. What if this pandemic signifies a moment in time when we are asked to redefine the priorities of our lives, to reexamine the use of our resources, and to reconsider the distribution of our wealth? What if this is the moment of revelation to prepare us for future pandemics and crises that will confront humanity more than once each century? What if this is the time to which Torah speaks with more meaning and relevance than ever before?

Perhaps this is not a grim view of the future. Perhaps it is the opportunity to see Torah operate more fully in our lives. Perhaps it is our chance to shape a world of compassion and caution, of empathy and equality; a world that necessitates the constant navigation of risks and benefits, of conscious living; a world of respect for personal boundaries and concern for the boundaries set by others.

Perhaps we are already there.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

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3 responses to “Are We There Yet?”

  1. Gail Sanders says :

    Thank you Rabbi Scheff for your clear, logical, loving and reassuring message in this time of uncertainty. If we travel together as one people we will surely get there. Virtual hugs, Gail Sanders >

    • Rhonda Plawner says :

      Once again, thank you Rabbi for your message of hope during these trying times. My hope is that all humanity awakens to heed the words in your last paragraph. May it be so. With affection, Rhonda

  2. Tova Adesnik says :

    These past weeks and months have indeed presented an opportunity for introspection and review of priorities. We find ourselves thinking about so many aspects of our lives–relationships, self-care (nutrition, exercise, inner voices/self talk), our view of the world around us, our relationship with “the universe” (God, higher power…). It’s pretty wonderful to have “more time” and yet ironic that we always have the time but don’t necessarily use it wisely. This is especially true for us retired folks.

    I don’t think we’ll ever “get there” (though trying is sure worth the effort), and we’re lucky to have leaders such as you, and Rabbis Drill and Hersh to accompany us on our journey.

    Hugs from Florida, and stay safe!

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