Forty Years in the Desert

Blood moon over Maria Comprida, Petropolis, Brazil

Blood moon over Maria Comprida, Petropolis, Brazil

This Monday, as you all know, we Jews celebrate our Passover. Well, it belongs to everyone, this Passover that changed the destiny of a good part of humanity; I’d say, the good part of modern civilization, if I weren’t bound to political correctness, at least on the side of the planet known as “Western:” you know, where the sun always sets.

As Alan told me just now, luckily in time to be part of this story, early on Tuesday we’ll also see a rare “blood moon” — red moon rising, he warns me, now referring to the worrisome ascension of you-know-who. Will we make it through?

In other times, I’d be bracing myself for the astrological “grand cardinal cross” that will dominate the skies during the coming eclipse, floating right over my own. Oh goodness. It’s been hard to maintain my skepticism these days; I’ve even sent an emergency email to my resident astrologer, go figure. Prognosis isn’t good.

On this day, more or less 1981 years ago, young Yeshua was celebrating Pessach with his disciples in Jerusalem when… well, you know.

Paradoxically, Pessach is a celebration of freedom, of evolution, of realizing we are no longer slaves and left our shackles behind. Ironically, we still had to wander in the desert for forty years before we could envision, from a vast distance, an acceptable meaning to the idea of a “Promised Land.”

True, I’ve written several times about it. I could even say the growth and changes I go through, by compromising too much, or not enough, could be measured through my Pessach stories over all these years as a writer. There it is, a good idea for a “new” book:  Passovers, the Passages.

Passover has been always meaningful to me, especially when I was a child and a teenager, before the indelible lightning of life marked me, scarring me forever, splitting my mind into a before and an after. It is an invisible mark only seen in writing: my “objectified feelings,” forever an emotional cripple. If it has made me more daring or mad, I would not know.

I’d never thought about all of Pessach’s many paradoxes, among which the several symbolic hungers, appeased at a feast worthy of Harun-Al-Rashid. It’s the third largest meal of the year, right after Christmas and Thanksgiving; certainly the largest of Jewish tradition. Hmm, quotations abound today: a sophistry that hides, under layers of dilettantish erudition, the galloping frustration that overcame me on this particular Pessach, through no fault but my own, of course, mea culpa. I ventured through uncharted waters, sought needs I had never considered, mea maxima culpa. Frankly, I’m too old for these roller coaster feelings (did you know they used to be called Russian mountains?), things I can’t handle anymore and from which I should protect myself.

On this Passover I have several deserts to cross. A bitter herb; a heavy passage. And this, too, shall pass. But while it doesn’t… honestly, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Among them, the political desert Brazilians are being forced to endure, all of course entwined with my deep desire to change.

But destiny does not rush; it follows its own rhythm forward.  Yes, you could remind me that I don’t believe in destiny anymore; it is true, some of the changes I’ve been through made me lose faith in spirituality. However, as my grandfather believed, tradition has always a lesson to teach.

My grandfather’s Passovers were wonderful. The family gathered, singing; joy spread around easily, like the sweet wine even us children were allowed to drink. Our oldest cousin played Prophet Elijah — at every home he visited, Elijah would take yet another sip, and we’d ask, laughing, “Will the Prophet Elijah get drunk on Seder night?” And what about Russian Jews, forbidden to slink out from behind the Iron Curtain? If it were up to each of us, the empty seat set aside for the Soviet Jew on our Passover table would feed them with meaning for the rest of their lives, at least spiritually.

Now it’s all in the past. There’s no longer an Iron Curtain, although bloody Putin has been doing all he can to hang it up again. Russian Jews left captivity a long time ago, taking their broken wings to the holy lands of Israel, where they became… well, never mind, I couldn’t tell you what the Russians did when they got there, anyway, according to my family’s acerbic hearsay.

There was, and still is, undeniable wisdom in the concept of letting time pass, memories fade and scars from the chains lighten. This was the main premise of our long crossing: only innocent minds could enter the Promised Land — free from the shackles, known only through an ancient tale. This would ensure the necessary new beginnings, free from the trauma of loss and of bondage, which, as Alan told me, rest engraved in our brains like a burn from some kind of magnetic shock.  A tree’s trunk might survive lightning; it might even yield flowers, but fire damage remains, albeit unseen.

Forty years, during which the desert backdrop became routine; as intrinsic as a second nature.

It was startling to realize, also this morning, that forty whole years have gone by since my grandfather died in a Passover day, taking away the joy of Pessach — of that Seder of my first years, before life made me wander, in solitude, through the arid path to growth.

This is, therefore, a significant Seder, in which the order of things will be new, that is, if the imponderable comes forth to end all the vague promises we have endlessly searched for. After all, it takes a while for the skin to regenerate itself underneath a scab, especially for those who, like me, constantly pick on them. But as long as there’s life, there will be renewal. Sorry, I could not avoid being serious this week.

Something to think about. Chag sameach!



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