Hol Ha-moed Pesach: Zooming In and Out

By Ilana Grinblat

Published March 31, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

My six-year-old son Jeremy recently became obsessed with Google Earth, a computer program which shows a satellite picture of the world. When you type an address, the program zooms in and displays an aerial photo of exactly where the building is located. Jeremy loves inputting the addresses of family and friends and watching the program go to each place.

Since Jeremy started using this program, he and I have been engaged in an ongoing debate. He was taught in school that we live on earth, but he doesn’t believe it. He claims that since when you zoom out you see the earth, and when you zoom in you see our house, this means that we don’t live on earth. I’ve been trying to explain to him that the program demonstrates that we do live on earth. So far, neither of us has managed to convince the other.

In this week’s Torah portion, God and Moses also reach a similar impasse. The Torah reading for Shabbat during Passover is appropriately from Exodus. It recounts that in a moment of crisis, Moses begged to see God’s presence. God explained that no one can see God and live but agreed to make God’s goodness pass before Moses. God instructed Moses to stand in a cleft of a rock and agreed to reveal God’s back (but not God’s face).

What does this enigmatic scene mean? The Hatam Sofer (of nineteenth-century Hungary) explained that we can’t see God directly, but can only recognize the difference God has made after the fact.

In this interchange, Moses conveys the essential frustration of human life. Hindsight is 20/20. Our choices are easily evaluated in retrospect. Yet since we don’t know the future results of our actions, we often can’t tell whether we’re making mistakes until afterwards. Moses’ plea to see God directly reflects the human desire for a sign to know in advance whether we’re making the best decisions. God’s reply — that one can only ascertain God’s presence in hindsight — is sad but true.

Yet, perhaps God was suggesting that to really see God, Moses needed a different vantage point. Often when we look at our lives close up, we get confused and mired in our daily struggles, but when we look from a distance, we get a better perspective.

In the Passover seder, there’s a song which helps us to attain a birds-eye view: Dayenu (which means ‘It is enough for us.’) The song reviews Jewish history and offers thanks for each particular blessing along the way. These blessings include: being freed from slavery in Egypt, given the Shabbat and the Torah, and brought to Israel. The song reminds us of the preciousness of freedom and of the Torah’s guidance — gifts which can so easily be taken for granted.

I recently read People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks a moving novel about the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah. The book recounts stories about people in different periods from the Haggadah’s creation in 1480 through the present — including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and the Holocaust. Viewing my life from the perspective of the characters in the story, I suddenly felt this overwhelming gratitude to be living in contemporary times. The day-to-day difficulties I face felt trivial in comparison to these epic struggles for survival.

This Passover, may we zoom out to recognize our blessings and zoom in to help those who are suffering, here on Earth.

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.