George, a doctoral candidate at the University of California in 1939, arrived late for his graduate-level statistics class and found two problems written upon the blackboard. He assumed it was a homework assignment, so he jotted them down and a few days later, he solved them. When he finally finished the homework assignment, he brought it to his professor, apologizing for the delay.
About six weeks later, around eight AM on a Sunday morning, George was awakened by someone banging on his front door. It was his professor. The professor rushed in his dorm room with the papers in hand, all excited. “I’ve just written an introduction to one of your papers. Please read it so I can send it off right away for publication.”
For a moment, George had no idea what the professor was talking about. It was then that he found out that the homework assignment on the blackboard was not homework. The equations that he found on the board were two famous ‘unsolvable’ math problems in statistics.
Had he known what they were, George Bernard Dantzig would have never tried to solve them.
Another story – For years, it was thought to be humanly impossible to run the 4 minute mile. On May 6, 1954, a man by the name Rodger Bannister managed to run a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. In the next couple of years, a fascinating thing happened, numerous runners suddenly also succeeded in running the 4 minute mile. Having seen that it can be done, runners were able to push themselves to make it happen.
So often, the biggest impediment to our excellence is no one else other than ourselves. We are the ones standing in the way of our dreams. Often times, by not even dreaming.
Three thousand years ago, our ancestors in Egypt had no aspirations, no goals, and no dreams. How could they? They were slaves without a moment to breathe. The world had not even been introduced to the concept of freedom. And so they lived their life day by day, entirely focused on the present, unaware and incapable of dreaming for a better tomorrow.
According to the Slonimer Rebbe, this was Moshe’s argument of, “I am not a man of words.” – Moshe wasn’t speaking about himself. According to this interpretation, Moshe was speaking about the Jewish people and he was saying, “G-d, how can I rally the Jewish People to think about freedom when they can’t see beyond their shoes. Their talk revolves around survival, not redemption. They are not a people of words. They are not a people of dreams.”
But ultimately, Moshe was wrong. The Jewish People found their mouth, they found their heart and they dreamt. The AriZal explains that is the essence of this holiday. It is Peh Sach, which literally means, a talking mouth. The Jews were no longer silent, struggling to stay alive. They talked of freedom, they talked about redemption, and they talked about travelling and conquering the holy land of Israel.
This is why by the way, the Jewish People could celebrate the first Pesach Seder in Egypt! Think about it – it makes no sense. The first celebration of redemption took place in Egypt, before they were free?! How does that make any sense?
It makes sense because the real celebration of Pesach is not the physical freedom per se. It’s the freedom to imagine, the freedom to plan for the future, it’s the freedom to dream. The message of Pesach is that you could be in the depths of hell, you could be a slave in Egypt, a prisoner in Auschwitz, or an inmate in the gulag, but if you’re free, you could dream about a better tomorrow.
That is the essence of Pesach and ironically, we sometimes get it all wrong. Instead of dreaming, we act like slaves and think about survival. Instead of thinking about the Seder night, we get fixated on the challenging of preparing for it. Instead of thinking about the foods that remind us of our parents and grandparents, we gripe about the prices we pay for the ingredients. Slaves think about today’s challenges, free people dream about a better tomorrow.
Pesach is a time to dream about what could be, not what is.
Which brings to bucket lists. A bucket list, according to the dictionary, is a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.
There is a website called bucketlist.org. They have listings of popular items that people put in their own personal bucket list. The most popular are things like learning a new language, going bungee jumping, skydiving, getting a tattoo, or, my favorite, covering someone’s car in post-it notes. There are thousands of people whose life dream is to cover a car in post-it notes…
What I would recommend this Pesach is that we make our own spiritual bucket lists; a number of spiritual experiences or achievements that you hope to have or accomplish during your lifetime.
Pesach is a time to dream – What are your spiritual goals that you would like to accomplish, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in your lifetime; what could you do that will give you an incredible amount of satisfaction?
For some of you it may be finishing a Jewish book, a book of Tanach, a book of Talmud. For some of you it may be to truly eradicate a negative characteristic. We too often give up on changing ourselves. Don’t. Put it on your bucket list and work on it. For some it may be learning how to read or understand Hebrew.
If you could do anything at all, what spiritual goal would you like to accomplish in your lifetime? What would you put in your spiritual bucket list? Think about it, discuss it, write your own personal, spiritual bucket list of things you’d like to accomplish before it’s too late.
Now I have a couple of things on my spiritual bucket list, but there is one thing that I never added because I thought that it would simply be too hard and honestly too expensive, and that is to write a Sefer Torah. Writing a Sefer Torah is seen as one of the greatest mitzvos. It’s actually the final and lasting directive given by Moshe to the Jewish People. Mitzvah #613.
This Pesach, I will be adding writing a Sefer Torah to my list because our sages teach us that even if one cannot write or finance the writing of an entire Sefer Torah, participating in any way is still a fulfillment of this Mitzvah.
Most of the Torah’s in this ark are quite old and are not so functional any more. Fran and Henry Reitberger generously agreed to underwrite the purchasing of a new Torah for Ner Tamid in the memory of Fran’s beloved father, Isaac Goldman, a member of this shul, a philanthropist, and a man beloved by all.
However, the Reitberger’s were kind enough to invite everyone here to take part in this wonderful Mitzvah. There are fliers in the back listing all the opportunities available – you could buy a book of the Torah, you could buy a Parsha, you could buy an Aliyah, and you could buy a letter. You could buy it for a loved one, in memory of a loved one, or just because. It’s a special Mitzvah, if not one of the most special of Mitzvos and I hope that all of you will join me in adding this Mitzvah to your spiritual bucket list.
While you’re cleaning for Pesach this week, while you’re spending your savings on Matzah, do yourself a favor and think like a free person and not like a slave. Think about the things you’d like to accomplish, think about the dreams you’d like to live, experience freedom at its finest. And may G-d give you the strength and ability to live your spiritual dreams.