Parshas Bo - Making An Impact
Our redemption from Mitzrayim can be characterized by the word "haste."
We left in a hurry as the passuk says "It was reported to Pharaoh that the people had fled; and Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, What is this that we have done, that we have released Israel from serving us?" (Shemos 14:5).
Our Matzah couldn't bake into bread because of the rush that we were in. "They baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt as unleavened cakes, for it had not leavened, for they were driven out of Egypt, and they could not tarry, and also, they had not made provisions for themselves." (Shemos 12:39)
In our Parsha we are taught that the Korban Pesach itself was eaten in haste. "And so you shall eat it: your hips girdled, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hands. Eat it in haste; it is a Passover offering to God." (Shemos 12:11)
What is the message we are meant to glean from the fact that we left Mitzrayim in a hurried fashion?
Furthermore, the Torah employs very strange language in describing how we are to eat the Korban Pesach. What does it mean to have our hips girdled, shoes on our feet and a staff in our hands? The Torah is timeless. What do these phrases mean to us?
Going for Speed
The Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory taught a beautiful explanation with regards to all of these questions.
“Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.” ~ John Lennon
In Judaism, it is just the opposite. Our life is meant to be lived! As slaves we were not able to live life in a vigorous fashion. While we were technically alive, our lives lacked passion and vibrancy. A dear friend of mine turned forty and shared with me a conversation he had with an older man at his 40th birthday party. This older man said one sentence to my friend. He simply said "this is your life." I have to tell you that it threw my friend for a loop. He shared with me the following sentiments. "Where did it go? I was twenty just yesterday and I blinked and now I am forty. I have teenage children! How did I get here?" Keep in mind, I consider my friend a great success. He has a meaningful job, a beautiful family and he is a growing Ben Torah. It is possible to have a great life but for it to happen almost accidentally. The message of redemption is that life moves forward quickly. It is our responsibility to grab hold of the reigns of our lives and make an impact on this world.
Making an Impact
I was always struck by the name my father gave his consulting company. Impact Communications. I once asked my father why he gave the company that name? His response has stayed with me until this very day. He told me that when people think about why they are using his services he wants them to think about the fact these services will make an actual impact. Plenty of people talk about change and growth but how many make a meaningful impact. Truth be told, in our home, impact was a buzz word. We were taught not just to talk about what difference we could make but to actually do it. Our parents hosted a Pesach Seder that was mostly dominated by friends and family that were not observant. When my cousin came home from college I recall my father asking him if he was dating anyone to which my cousin replied that there were few Jewish girls on campus and none that had caught his interest. My father was happily surprised to hear this as we were not sure if our cousins would only date Jews. When pressed on this issue my cousin responded, "Uncle Mitch, you would allow me to bring a Gentile to the Seder?" Our Pesach Seder was not simply a night where our family sat around telling stories, it was an impactful experience that anyone who was there would not , indeed could not, soon forget. Even simple day to say events left us with the impression that we had to make an impact. I fondly recall that on Shabbos morning my father would wake us up to go to Shul. (Thankfully, the notion of not going to Shul with our father was a foreign one. Sadly today many talmidim tell me that they don't even walk to Shul with their fathers. A practice that certainly has a deleterious impact but that is an article for a different time.) My father would call up the stairs and ask if were up to which we would reply in the affirmative. And then my father would give us his trademark line, "Up means out of bed." Saying we were up was not meaningful. Actually being up was what my father was looking for.
So what impact is a Jew meant to make in this world?
When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.
The first impact we must make in this world is on ourselves. If we don't put the oxygen mask on ourselves first we will not be able to help others around us. Each one of us has incredible talents that Hashem endowed us with but as with all talents we must cultivate them until they become our reality. In Tanya the Alter Rebbe writes that the hips are "the base which holds up the entire body." Girdling our hips represents the development of our own unique potential. God does not make doubles. In our three tiered journey of making an impact on this world we must first begin with ourselves. Ask yourself, what are the gifts that God gave me? What are the actionable steps you need to take in order to develop these talents? Remember that the greatest tool you were ever given was yourself.
Stage two in our journey of leading an impactful life is wearing shoes on our feet. Each one of us is part of a family and a community. We have jobs where we interact with coworkers, neighbors, the people in our Shuls etc... We live in a world that refers to itself as a global community but in truth it is no community at all. If we call everyone in the world our community then no one will really be our friend. Our feet are our means of getting from place to place. When a person does not have proper shoes the journey can be painful. The ground can be rocky, the terrain can be treacherous but when outfitted with sturdy shoes we can be in motion.
As children we are self focused. As we grow older we journey from self to other. A baby is only concerned with having their own needs met. As we mature we begin to get concerned and involved with our immediate surroundings. A friend in pain, a member of our community who is in need of a chesed... these are the places where we leave our mark as we get older. Consider all the sleepless nights of Hatzalah members. They readily give up the comfort of their own beds because a person in their community needs their help. Do they know this person? Often the answer is no. Do they get flak for having their walkie talkies on too loudly in Shul? Often the answer is yes. And yet, for a stranger they are willing to endure it all. Why? Because the impact they make on the community is enormous. They are not "home bound." Equipped with shoes on their feet, they readily leave their homes to leave a mark on their community at large.
Again, this was something my siblings and I saw in our home. Whether my mother was hosting shiurim, learning Torah with someone who was not fortunate enough to have been given a Jewish education through partners in Torah or taking time out of her exceptionally busy schedule to help a student who had a learning disability, we grew up with a role model who lived a life of making an impact on others. For a significant portion of my life I was known only as Morah Paula's son. There was never a time where we went out to eat where at least one of her students (or parents of one of her students) would come over to say hello to us. I remember placing bets with my brothers as to how many times our meals would be interrupted. Perhaps I was annoyed at the time. I cannot truly recall. In retrospect it is something I am deeply proud of. Not many children grow up with a mother who dedicates herself to the tzibbur. My siblings and I have been very blessed.
Can we really change the world? The answer is a resounding yes. And we have. History has taught us that humanity is capable of creating seismic shifts in our world. Not to date myself but I remember dialing... on a land line... on a corded phone... on a rotary dial! I had an atari! And if you don't know what that means you are proving my point. The world changes as we develop the necessary tools. We know what we needs to happen to crate the change we are looking for but we may not yet have invented the tools to make it actionable. "...and your staff in your hands" means developing the technology to reach out beyond ourselves and make changes in every aspect of the world around us. That's ultimately what a staff is. It is the technology to reach where our hands cannot.
We live in a skeptical world. We are taught to scale down our ambitions and to be realistic. The truth is that we do have the capacity to change the world. In some small way, every single day, we are given opportunities to make real changes. They may happen incrementally. They may be so small that the change is almost imperceptible. But it's there and it's meaningful. We live in what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called a "fractured world." It is our job to heal it. All we need is to reach beyond ourselves and bring a little bit more love, light and hope to everything and anything we touch.