It is the week of resolutions. Are you off on the right foot? How did you strengthen yourself to approach your new beginnings with a full heart, with full intention, and the will to not look back?
I found inspiration for this new secular year in a different type of source this week. My daughter and I have been reading Anne of Green Gables together for months now and this week we finished the book. For me this is a beloved story, one I vividly remember reading in my childhood, about a young girl who is bright, creative, imaginative, independent and willing to make mistakes. Over the course of the story her hard work and determination pay off, she sees great success, all avenues seem to be opening up for her, but then life throws her and her family an unfortunate curve, and she has to decide what to do with The Bend in the Road, the title of the final chapter. With conviction, Anne decides that she will simply go with the bend, the curve, change course, and make the most of it. She says, “I will give life here my best, and I believe it will give its best to me in return.” Even when forced to change course, Anne is able to be positive, to both bring goodness to and expect goodness from her new path.
And the truth is that resolutions work best when we bring our best to the task and expect that the best will come to us. We can thwart our own best intentions with cynicism and self doubt.
In this week’s Torah portion the Israelites are encountering their new beginning. When Pharoah finally lets them leave Egypt, how did the Israelites set off on a new path without hatred, with expectations of good, with positive energy? Torah made sure they would, by having the Egyptians give the Israelites gifts of silver, gold, and clothing on their way out of Egypt, or at least comply willingly with the Israelites’ requests for these things.
Modern commentator Benno Jacob, who was born in Germany and had to flee the Nazis, says that the Israelites would have eternally hated the Egyptians if they had left Egypt without anything to their names. The bitterness would have thwarted any attempt at a positive new life. The Torah has the Egyptians give gifts in order to make it easier for the Israelites to fulfill the mitzvah from Deuteronomy “you shall not abhor an Egyptian.” The mitzvah was created to erase the negativity of the experience in Egypt. Tradition teaches us that looking back with hatred will block our ability to form positive expectations of goodness from a new beginning.
Additionally, the Egyptians’ gifts informs the purpose of another mitzvah: that one who frees a slave should not send that slave away empty-handed. Everyone starting anew has the right, and the need, to erase the negativity and create expectations of good things in the future. Simply starting on a new path is not enough. We must expect the positive results and effects of that new path, which requires relinquishing the negativity of past experience.
So Torah taught the Israelites and so we learn today.
Whatever resolution you have formed, whatever steps you have committed to taking to achieve positive results in your life, consider whether you expect the goodness to result. Will cynicism erase your good intentions? Will the negative experiences of the past inform your belief in your ability to start again?
What gift can you ask for yourself or from someone else to wipe away your past experience and start on this new path, giving life your best and believing that life will give you the best in return? Ask whether you are the Egyptian in your own life or others are the Egyptians you think are blocking your path. Perhaps those Egyptians will be willing to help.
For it is not simply the path you choose to take but the attitude you choose to take with you that will bring blessing to your life.