14 April, 2014

“I am that I am”

A special excerpt for Passover. I adore the symbolism of the Jewish holiday that celebrates the liberation of the ancient Jews from their bondage in Egypt because to me, it is speaks to oppressed people everywhere. Exodus represents an honest bid for a human being's most essential right--freedom.

*

After the class had been dismissed for the day, the Rabbi beckoned to Mikhail who nodded, gathered his books, and made his way to the Rabbi’s great wooden desk. Rabbi Syme grasped hold of the tzitzit on his prayer shawl thoughtfully before setting his gaze upon him.

     “Mikhail, my boy, your thoughts are extraordinarily advanced for a boy of your age…” Mikhail’s stillness neither refuted or confirmed this fact. “Indeed, your grasp of the trials of Exodus is so exquisite and all comprehending…” But he could not continue—his heart had been flooded with every possible emotion. When he had gathered himself again, he locked eyes with the Mikhail. “Tell me, my son, does your Uncle have any idea—” he looked away, pausing slightly“—of what you are capable of?”

Mikhail stared at the Rabbi in shock.
No one had ever named his condition.
It was something no cleverness, not even his, could ever understand.

     “No, Sir” he replied, his voice so small he was unsure he had spoken at all.

The Rabbi’s eyes glinted.

     “Mikhail, I wanted to share something that you yourself reminded me of: freedom is dynamic. It is an active thing.”

Mikhail tilted his head, intrigued.

     “—On Shabbat, when we are commanded to rest instead of work, we are experiencing what, on the surface, seems to be the opposite of something else. But just as Shabbat is much more than the absence of toil, so, too, is the freedom of Exodus more than the absence of bondage.”

The boy understood.

     “Free a man of the constraints that limit and inhibit his development, and you have a free human being. Freedom is the natural state of man.”

He looked away from the boy for a moment and recalled the youth of his own searching self.

     “My boy,” he imparted with a ferocious passion that shook them both by the throat, “There is nothing negative about our human potential—do you understand me? God Himself created you the way you are. Do not let anyone in this world convince you otherwise. And you are capable of anything, my boy. There is and shall always be a disparity among the gifts God has granted men, but we all deserve equal consideration. All men, no matter how low, how basic or how tormented, deserve compassion, dignified brotherhood, and respect.
     “But part of respecting all men is respecting ourselves. Recognizing that God has blessed you. By embracing these gifts, we live as God lives, with love for all He has created—with an open heart.
“Thus our sages have said: ‘In every generation a person must see him-self as if he has himself come out from Mitzrayim.’ You, of course, know what Mitzrayim, this Hebrew word used for ‘Egypt’ means, do you not?”
     “…Boundaries…” the boy whispered.
     “It does indeed—and the effort to free ourselves is a perpetual one.”

The Rabbi removed his spectacles and looked deeply into the eyes of the boy,

     “I promise you, Mikhail, you truly blessed child of our Lord, I promise you will find the strength to overcome the oppression of your circumstances. This fight is your purpose—the strength for it inherent within you. Like rocks of salt shaken in water, the turbulence soon it asserts itself in perfect order. My boy, you are supported by the Greatest Parent of them all, and He has endowed you with your gifts, and therefore believes in their power. And, for the record my boy: so do I.”

The boy grew very still.
The tears collecting in the corners of his eyes stung with the foreignness of care.
He was filled with a gratitude he had never known.

     “Do you recall the Father’s response to another one of his most gifted sons?”

He did.

The boy wept silently into the blackness of his coat and whispered,

     “I am that I am…”






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