Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reflecting on the Exodus

A few weeks ago we read about the Jews leaving Egypt, in a little preview of upcoming seders. Now we find them in the desert, beginning their wanderings. One of the perpetual questions this raises is why did God require us to spend so much time in the desert? Why forty years of suffering and toil? The past week gave me a new thought on the matter.

As some of you may know, I recently received some upsetting news. I was less than halfway into my week of mourning for it, a kind of self-reflective shiva, when I had to leave for Las Vegas for a week-long trade show; one of the largest in the world. I suppose I could make some Exodus-related joke about heading back into the land of the pyramids, but driving from LA to Vegas really confuses that into/out of the desert question.

I've gone to this tradeshow before; difference is, this year I hurt my ankle the weekend before, meaning I was attending the show with a walking cast and several medicines for the pain. And there was pain. That low-level constant type that you don't notice until it becomes a large all-encompassing one.

On the second day, I was walking back to my hotel (saying that the distance to my hotel was less than the length of the expo floor doesn't really say much) I realized I hadn't been thinking about my rejection letter at all; the pain was so great I had completely forgotten to suffer!

Now I'm sure my therapist will have a field day with that idea when I share it with her (I hear she's naming her second yacht after me), but I wondered if that same idea couldn't apply to the Israelites.

Think about it. The Exodus and that whole "slavery" thing were definitely a form of major psychic trauma; it's probably fair to say that modern psychologists meeting the wandering tribes would find more than a few cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even if they had gone straight to the Promised Land, they would not have been able to enjoy it. The pain was too much. So instead they go and wander around the Sahara until their feet are ready to fall off. I can personally attest that this is a wonderful distraction from those tiny, inconsequential emotional pains.

Granted, this is not exactly a kind and loving divine solution; it's literally the equivalent of a parent shooting their child's toe off to distract them from a bad breakup. But consider the context. God had several thousand PTSD patients on hand, and psychotherapy wouldn't be invented for several more millennia, assuming, to complicate the matter, that the Israelites could even survive long enough to become Freud's ancestors! The guy (God) had to work with what was available, and what he had was desert.

Honestly, by the time the Israelites finally got to sit down in the Promised Land and rest their feet, they were probably too tired to even care about Pharaoh What's-His-Name anymore.

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