There is a great old joke about a guy who is determined to learn the meaning of life from the greatest spiritual authority in the world. He travels thousands of miles, spends a fortune, interviews spiritual leaders of every conceivable tradition and finds no satisfaction. All along the way, he keeps hearing about this one guru who lives in an inaccessible cave high in the Himalayas who is purported to truly know the meaning of life. Our guy is determined to get there. He travels to the Himalayas. He finds a guide who says he knows upon which mountain the guru resides . . . Three mountain treks later, they finally identify the right mountain. They are pinned down to the side of the mountain for two weeks because of blizzards and then finally, finally reach the mouth of the guru's cave.
Our searcher is informed that the guru only steps out of the cave to encounter spiritual searchers on alternating Thursdays . . . And this Tuesday of the "off" week. Finally the great day has arrived, the attendants announce that the guru is about to emerge from the cave and our spiritual seeker dusts off his clothing, slicks down his hair and prepares to learn the meaning of life. He hears a bit of a shuffling noise and a tiny little bald guy wrapped in saffron colored robes comes blinking out into the sunlight. He contemplates his visitor and asks: "My child, what do you seek?" our friend straightens up and responds: "I've searched the world over, explored every spiritual tradition, I am driven to learn what life is...". The guru sits cross-legged on the ground and goes into a trance. Three hours later he opens his eyes and declares: "Life......life is a fountain."
The spiritual seeker stares aghast at the guru and exclaims: "Life is a fountain??!!!?!!?"
The guru focusses on his visitor and asks: "You mean, it's not??!?!?!"
All of that is to say that I don't believe that life is meant to be a fountain, either. I believe that our tradition teaches us that life is a journey.
Our annual cycle of biblically-ordained festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot) steep us in "journey":
This time next week we will be putting the finishing touches on our family sedars, Passover is upon us. This is, of course, the festival during which the journey begins. We begin the journey feeling the bitterness of slavery as we bring tears to our own eyes by eating the maror/bitter herb. We experience the urgency of the rush from Egypt as we eat the dry, unrisen matzah. We wonder at the miracles of the plagues and join in Psalms of praise to God as we contemplate our gift of self-determination as a people and set off for the uncharted journey through the wilderness.
In seven weeks, we will mark the encampment at Sinai and stand together once again to accept The Torah as God's greatest and most loving gift to us.
In the autumn, we will gather within the trembling walls of the sukkah to experience the vulnerability of our ancestors' journey through the wilderness and acknowledge the same vulnerability as we journey through our own lives.
It's all about the journey: from where do we draw our values and inspiration? To whom do we make and keep commitments? How can we find unconditional love and an eternal source of strength? We are meant to grow in soul as well as in cognitive knowledge and maturity as we make our way through life's journey.
May this Pesah to come next week serve as inspiration for us to keep our hearts and souls moving and growing in our life journeys.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.