Nowadays, I am continually amazed by how much stuff I take with me when leaving the house. In the past, I used to take my purse and go. Now, especially if I go somewhere with the kids (even for a few hours), I have to pack a bag with a change of clothes for each child, sweaters in case it gets cold, snacks etc. I also bring a water bottle and a book in case the kids fall asleep in the car. My two-year old daughter invariably packs a bag with snacks and toys “for the road.” Not to mention the stroller, the car seats, and well, you get the picture.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one with trouble getting out of the house. In this week’s Torah portion, the Jewish people embarked on their Exodus from Egypt. In last week’s parasha, during the darkness plague, Pharaoh agreed to let the people go but asked them to leave behind their flocks and herds. Moses refused to leave without all the livestock, explaining they were needed to offer sacrifices to God in the desert, “and we won’t know with what we are to worship God until we get there.” Pharaoh refused, and another plague was leashed before Pharaoh relented and let the people go with all their belongings.
In this week’s parasha , after the Israelites crossed through the split sea, we learn that they didn’t need their flocks to worship God after all. What they needed were timbrels and flutes — as Miriam led the women in song and dancing to praise God. Good thing that the women had remembered to pack their instruments!
Indeed, the Mekhilta teaches that the women’s packing demonstrated their righteousness. The women were so confident that God would make miracles for them that they packed timbrels and flutes to celebrate.
The people’s packing was a statement both of faith in God, as well as openness to adapt to whatever would be needed in the future. We normally like to pretend that we know the future, and that we have our plans all mapped out. However, Moses’ statement reflects humility — admitting that he didn’t really know what he needed until he got there. Like Moses, we too may need to keep our options open and have faith that we’ll discover what God wants of us when we reach the next chapter of our lives.
For me, having children forced me to shift my thinking to Moses’ approach. Before having kids, I had plans and goals and engaged in lots of long-term planning. Now that I have kids, some of those plans worked out and some didn’t. I realized that I had to examine my life in smaller chunks. I had to admit that much of the time, I didn’t know how to proceed until I reached the next stage. Like the Israelite women, I had to learn to trust God to help me figure out what to do once I got there.
On life’s spiritual journey, don’t forget to pack your courage, confidence, compassion, and especially hope. You never know when you might need them.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.