A friend of mine was once stopped on the street by someone who asked him the following question: “Why are Jews always in a rush?”
My friend was taken aback by the query, for he was just walking calmly down the street minding his own business. Yet it got him thinking: are Jews really in more of a rush than anybody else? After all, in the East, especially in the New York area, it seems that no one has time for anything!
Yet in this week’s Torah portion, we find that a hurried atmosphere characterized the Jews’ departure from Egypt and became a nation. They had to eat the Pascal offering in haste on Passover night, with their traveling clothing on. For hundreds of years the Egyptians had refused to let the Jews leave, yet in the end they made them depart on less than a day’s notice. They didn’t want to see them around for a minute longer! The Jews had no time to prepare bread properly; hence they made matza that doesn’t need to rise. In essence, our origins as a nation all took place in a fast-paced fashion. Why was that so?
The commentaries explain that the G-d wished to teach the Jews a fundamental lesson in life. When we have something to take care of, be it a project or a life-long ambition we wish to pursue, we invariably allow laziness to overcome us. We push off what we can accomplish today for tomorrow. By hurrying the Jews out of Egypt, G-d was teaching them that when it comes time to take care of something, just do it. Get things accomplished when you can. If you have the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, a Torah commandment, such as helping a fellow man or studying Torah, don’t procrastinate; do it right now.
G-d also wished to show the Jews that although they slaved so long and despaired of hope for redemption, He didn’t forget them. At the prescribed time for their redemption, He was ready to lead them out at a moment’s notice. This represents our deepest hopes as a people. We face challenges in life that engulf us with worry and despair. Yet G-d can work swiftly. He can turn everything around “in the blink of an eye” when the right time arrives, just as He did in Egypt. We can always turn to Him for hope and salvation.
We all long for the Final Redemption when “swords will turn to plowshares” and true peace will reign across the world. The Rabbis teach us that it can come in the blink of an eye, just as the Exodus occurred in Egypt in a fast-paced manner. It is our fervent hope that that day will arrive soon.