Opening your Eyes
When the people of Israel crossed through the Red Sea, they witnessed a great miracle. Some say it was the greatest miracle that ever happened. On that day they saw a sight more awesome than all the visions of the prophets combined. The sea split and the waters stood like great walls, while Israel escaped to freedom on the distant shore. Awesome. But not for everyone.
Two people, Reuven and Shimon, hurried along among the crowd crossing the sea. They never once looked up. They noticed only that the ground under their feet under their feet was a little muddy- like a beach at low tide.
“Yucch!” said Reuven, “there’s mud all over this place!” “Bleech” said Shimon; “I have muck all over my feet. “This is terrible”, answered Reuven.” There is no difference here between being a slave in Egypt and being free here.
And so it went, Reuven and Shimon whining and complaining all the way to freedom. For them there was no miracle. Only mud. Their eyes were closed. They might as well have been asleep. (Exodus Rabbah 24:1)
Reuven and Shimon were used to looking at the ground. Focusing on the mud, they missed the miracle of fish lined up beside them. They missed the tremendous colors under the sea and perhaps the holiest of all, they missed all the Israelites walking together to freedom. We all know people who choose to see the negative everywhere in everything.
Two of my very close friends were diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer the same day.
One was told that he would be dead within six months. He and his wife had a good cry in the car and the next day when he shared his diagnosis, he determined that he would live to see his granddaughter become Bat Mitzvah 18 months later. A world-renowned Holocaust artist, my friend Aaron continued to create. We continued our work on a Holocaust Hagaddah, which we had been writing for ten years that will be published as part of his legacy. He had exhibitions at several local colleges and Holocaust centers and spoke at each of them. The synagogue honored Aaron for all of his beautiful craftsmanship throughout the synagogue. He truly lives in its walls. Aaron’s made it to his granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah looking strong and beautiful. A month later he succumbed to pancreatic cancer, leaving little notes of projects for his family and close friends.
My other dear friend has lived 18 months with her cancer. She is constantly assured by her doctors that she will live. She has had some hiccups along the way: a surgery on her belly, one to remove a small cancerous growth in her head. The chemo makes her ill, and everything hurts. Although I cannot blame her, she has complained about the hospital food, yelled at the doctors for not healing her fast enough, and yelled at me and my God for allowing this to happen. We used to take walks outside together; now she only goes outside to go the hospital. The doctors tell her she will live and she replies what for. She spends her days walking a hole in the carpet and taking as much zanax as possible. Her suffering is obvious. I can hear the pain in her groans. Her child has not been there for her, her husband is trying but is getting ever more frustrated with her talk of death. She has taken to call me several times a day to ask if she is going to live, seeking my words as truth. I do not know. But I can give her emotional support and repeat the words of the doctor you will live. Nothing gives her joy anymore. Where she used to love the sun, praying at her shul and shopping. She is paralyzed by fear, she cannot write because she cannot focus. She cannot read because she hates every book. All she can do is complain alone at home. I am not living her pain; but her attitude cannot be helping. She will not celebrate good bone and pet scans; because they do not mean a thing in this world she is creating. I cannot help her anymore. She has lost her love for living and I do not know how to bring it back. This disease has already taken my friend’s spirit and soul.
I am living a healthy life and oh so grateful for every minute. I miss Aaron but still have his words, finish the Hagaddah. His final work of art sits on an easel by his bed. Jacob’s ladder, where the angels are going up and coming down. Jacob sleeps curled among the rocks, but his head faces the heights. Vayomer achen yesh Adonai b’makom ha’zeh v’Anochi lo yadati. (Genesis 28:16. And Jacob awoke from his slumber and he said God was in this place and I, I did not know.
God is asking us to look around and notice the beauty in the world and the people around us. Raise you eyes to meet other eyes, celebrate what you have, rather then focusing on what is missing. Although we may not see it at the time, “God is in this place and we did not know.