On Tuesday morning I called my friend Cindy with joyful anticipation. Monday was her final court date, after three long years of legal battles with her ex-husband, first over child custody, then visiting rights, and finally child support payments. I expected Cindy to be as relieved as someone who, wandering in a dark labyrinth for years, finally finds her way out into the sunlight.
"It's over!" I shouted gleefully into the telephone.
"Well, not quite." Cindy sounded morose. "We're going to a full trial. We have a court date for next September."
"Next September?" I cried. "That's six months away! What happened? I thought that the child support was supposed to be settled yesterday."
"So did I," Cindy sighed bitterly. "But it was a choice between letting the judge decide and going to trial, so we're going to trial."
"Are you serious?" I couldn't believe that Cindy would have to live in limbo, without monthly child support payments, for another half year. "What happened? Your ex just wasn't willing to let the judge decide?"
"Actually, he agreed. I was the one who didn't want to hand it over to the judge."
I was stunned. "He agreed and you refused?! But isn't it Judge A., who's been handling your case all along?"
"Yes, it's the same judge," Cindy affirmed.
"But Judge A. likes you! All along she's ruled in your favor on every point. And she clearly doesn't like your ex. Why don't you just let her decide?"
"Well, it's not so simple. If we let her decide, her decision is final. We have no right of appeal. If we go to a full trial, and we don't like her decision, we can always appeal to a higher court."
"But she likes you!" I repeated incredulously. "She'll give you a fair judgment."
"Well, I'm not so sure," Cindy answered uncertainly. "But something happened last night that's making me wonder whether I should trust her after all. Someone gave me a free ticket to the Tel Aviv Opera. I had never been before. In the ladies' room during intermission, who did I run into? Judge A.! Of course, she couldn't say anything to me, but she smiled at me this really loving smile. Since then I've been wondering whether I should just go ahead and trust her to decide."
LETTING THE JUDGE DECIDE
Letting the supernal Judge -- that is, God -- decide is one of the hardest spiritual challenges we face. God says explicitly that the whole purpose of the Exodus was so that He would become a God to us. "I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be a God to you" [Num. 15:41].
God is the ultimate controller of the universe and everything in it. When we relinquish control to God, we allow God to be God. When we take our will and try to align it with the Divine will, saying sincerely to God, "Okay, this isn't the way I want it, but it's the way You want it, and I'll make Your will my will," then God becomes a God to us.
For most of us control freaks, it would be easier to climb Mt. Everest with our hands tied behind our backs. Oh, we're willing to let God be God on the cosmic scale -- creating the universe, keeping the planets rotating in their orbits, etc. But when it comes to the microcosm, to our own little fiefdoms, at home, in the workplace, with our families and friends, we usurp Divine control on a daily -- sometimes hourly -- basis.
Last week I needed to buy some medicine for my son. No sooner did I drive out of the Old City than I hit bumper-to-bumper traffic.
"At this rate, it's going to take me an hour to get to the pharmacy and back," I thought. "I'd better make sure they have the medication in stock before I blow a whole hour."
I called my husband on my cell phone and asked him to look up the number of the pharmacy and call them to make sure they had the medicine in stock. A few minutes -- and maybe 20 meters -- later, he called back to say they had it in the 250 mg. package. What size did we need? I checked the prescription. Yes, 250 mg., but I'd better just make sure. My husband gave me the pharmacy number, I called, and I spoke to the same pharmacist, the only one on duty in that small pharmacy. Yes, they had it.
No matter how organized, efficient, and reasonable I am, I can't control the world. I can't even control the purchase of one small medication.
A half-hour of crawling along in traffic later, I reached the pharmacy. After waiting in line for ten minutes, I handed the pharmacist the prescription. She looked at it and remarked, "Oh yes, your husband called and you called." She started opening and closing drawers and several minutes later returned to the prescription counter.
"We don't have it," she said.
"What?" I almost shrieked. "But we called! You said you had it!"
"We did have it," she said unapologetically. "We had two packages of it. But people have come in since you called. Did you expect me to hold it for you?"
All the way home in the traffic, I mulled over the maddening reality that, no matter how organized, efficient, thorough, and reasonable I am, I can't control the world. I can't even control the purchase of one small medication.
God runs the world. Most of the time, in my humble estimation, He does a grand job of it. (I write these words sitting out on my friend's patio, between the orange and red tulips and the pink and white snapdragons. Bravo! Bravo!) But sometimes when I have a perfectly good idea of how things should go, God deems otherwise. And that's the chance to let God be God.
Anyone recognize the following scenarios?
- You spend three months planning your family's dream vacation, and then one of the kids gets sick.
- You get locked out of your house and the neighbor who has your spare key is on vacation in Disneyworld.
- You prepare an outstanding presentation for a perspective client, but you don't get the job.
- You did everything the book says, but you still can't get your child to go to bed on time.
- You've allowed exactly enough time to meet a friend -- or a date you're trying to impress -- at the box office ten minutes before show time, and the car won't start, or your mother calls with an emergency, or your pet absconds through the front door and won't come back.
Every time we don't get our way, we have a choice of response. We can get frustrated, angry, bitter, depressed, or we can let God be God.
Relinquishing control does not mean abdicating responsibility. Judaism obligates us to carefully plan the vacation, prepare the presentation, establish boundaries for our children, and show up when we say we will. But sometimes (often!) despite our best efforts, events go awry. These are the occasions when we are literally competing with God for control.
The prerequisite for surrendering control to God is to trust that He will do what is best for us. Frequently, like Cindy, no matter how often the Judge has ruled in our favor, we are afraid to trust Him. The great miracles of the Exodus were meant to be like Cindy's encounter with Judge A. at the opera. Just as Judge A.'s loving smile conveyed the message that she really cared for Cindy, so the miracles of the Exodus were meant to convince us, once and for all, of God's great love for us.
"LEAVE THE DRIVING TO ME"
Unlike the other holidays of the Jewish calendar, which demand great spiritual effort from us if we are to partake of the unique gifts they offer, Passover is a freebie. The redemption from Egypt, we are told, came not because the Israelite slaves were worthy, but because they cried out to God in their helplessness. Their liberation required only that they surrender to God's will by sacrificing the Pascal sheep (symbolic of following) and follow God into the desert, with no idea of what they would eat or drink in the vast wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.
Passover is the time to hear the Divine voice saying, "Leave the driving to Me."
Every year at Passover the same dynamic applies. Passover is the time to hear the Divine voice saying, "Leave the driving to Me." This doesn't mean that we should curl up in the back seat and go to sleep. But it does mean that we should stop being backseat drivers to the Almighty.
A backseat driver sits in the passenger seat issuing incessant commands: "Slow down!" "Turn right here!" "Watch out for that guy trying to pass us!" And when the car in front stops suddenly, the backseat driver slams down on the brake. Only there is no brake on that side of the car.
Similarly, most of us drive through life slamming our foot on the brake or the accelerator or tightly gripping the steering wheel, when there is no brake, no accelerator, and no steering wheel on our human side of the car. All the control devices are on the other side, and God is in the driver's seat.
According to Jewish thought, the only power human beings possess is the power to choose between right and wrong. Everything else is orchestrated by the One God, the only real Force in the universe.
To access the special liberating power of Passover, we need to stop trying to control our world and trust God to do the job. The optimum time for this is at the Seder, while we are eating the Afikoman, the matzah that comes after dessert and that is symbolic of the Pascal offering. While consuming the matzah, in silence, without distraction, speak to God in your heart and tell Him: "I truly want to align my will with Your will." You will taste no greater freedom.