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  • Andres Spokoiny

Our Great Incomplete Journey

Passover is a holidays of journeys. The journey of the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promise Land; the journey from Slavery to Freedom and the ultimate journey: the Jews' road to peoplehood. Somewhere along this momentous journey, a ragtag bunch of slaves become the People of the Book and gave to humanity the eternal ethical and moral values that guide us to this very day.


Cinematic journeys, road-movies of wonders, perilous trips are a recurring feature of the Bible: Abraham leaving from Ur to Canaan; Joseph going to Egypt; Jacob escaping to Haran… Our biblical heroes are always going somewhere. When they settle down they end up packing up and leaving again.


This idea of the journey is central to Judaism. We see life as a journey and history as a progression along a road, bumpy at times, but with a great destination at the end.

And the Exodus is the beginning of our journey as a people. Other peoples of antiquity claimed to descend from gods or kings. We pride ourselves in descending from a group of slaves that somehow mustered the courage to set out in a journey towards freedom—a freedom that is not an end in itself, but a beginning, a necessary first step on the road to fulfill a destiny. As Yeshayahu Leibowitz beautifully put it: it's not "freedom FROM" it's "freedom FOR".


On this holiday of journeys I want to reflect on the personal journey of Moses. You see, I have rachmoness for Moses. He decides to forego a life of comfort, power and wealth, in order to shepherd a bunch of whiny Jews through arid wastelands. And what does he get in return? 40 years of toiling in the desert and an unmarked grave somewhere in Jordan—and with what I would assume to be a massive Matzah-born indigestion. The ultimate insult: his name is not even mentioned in the Passover Haggadah. He's absent from the entire story.


And yet, his story has so much to tell us, as Jews and as funders... it starts with a simple phrase: vayetze el echav, vay'ar b'sivlotam. "he went towards his brothers and he saw their suffering". Our journey as humans only can start when we connect with others, when we "go towards our brothers". Our journey as leaders and as philanthropists can only start when we "see the suffering", when we become aware that in the world there are wrongs to be righted, gaps to be filled, injustices to be repaired and values to be transmitted.


And then comes that momentous realization, when Moses sees an Egyptian flogging a Hebrew slave and "saw that there was no man", he intervened in defense of the slave and killed the foreman. There's a point—both in our personal lives and in our philanthropic careers—when we see that there is no one else, that if we don't do something, it won't get done; that this particular injustice won't be solved by any other person but you. When you know that if you don't step up, nobody will. In these rare moments, you feel that the balance between right and wrong in the world depends on you, and generations are looking at you from the past and for the future. As did Moses, you stand up, and you face the consequences.


Or take the ultimate encounter: Moses facing the burning bush, the most modest of plants, but hiding the most sublime of messages. And still, when entrusted with the critical task of liberating the Hebrews, he hesitates. This is not simply killing a foreman, this is an enormous undertaking. "Why me?" he asks. "I can't speak," he protests.


And then he gets down to his true question: "Mi anochi" "Who am I?"


And here's yet another deep lesson: in order to stand up to your destiny, to lead others, to inspire others, you need to know who you are; you need to know what values you stand for, what legacy you want to leave behind you.


The leadership journey always includes a quest into your own soul. But once you know "Mi anochi", you don't ask again. You don't ask "who am I to make a difference;" "who am I to realize a dream;" "who am I to inspire others." You step up and do it, because you know that with all your flaws and problems, you have something important to share with the world, and that there's something that only you can do.


Moses evolves, changes, grows. He does things he never thought he could do. The man who couldn't speak reads the Ten Commandments with a voice that resonates for all eternity. The one who was afraid to lead becomes the template for all leaders to follow.


And his last message is one of self-effacement. It is as if he doesn't care about not being mentioned in the Haggadah. He knows that he has accomplished something far more important than himself. But still, even after answering his question of "Mi anochi?" his journey is incomplete. He dies before seeing it to the end.


Our Passover journey never reaches the promised land either. (Even once the food is finally on the table.) Think about it: we read the whole Haggadah and we don't arrive to the Promised Land. It is like watching a movie and have a power outage in the last five minutes.


Dear friends, this is a powerful lesson of Passover: our journey to freedom and meaning never ends. Our personal journeys to self-improvement, growth and change never finishes. Our quest to make the world a better place is an ongoing, never-ending endeavor. The Jewish journey doesn't stop. There's always more to achieve, more to improve. President Peres said at the JFN conference that the biggest gift Jews gave the world is "dissatisfaction". We are the people that will never be content with the status-quo. We will always strive to improve and repair the world, even those in Israel finish the Haggadah with "Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt". Even if you're there, we haven't arrived. There's more to rebuild and repair. Our journeys are unending because the best part of them is always yet to come.


Chag Sameach!

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