By Albert Chait, Senior Minister UHC Leeds
We can all recall many stills and images as our earliest memories. Situations, people, even tastes and smells that count as our first recollections. Let me share with you one of my foremost ‘stories’ that I remember like it was just yesterday. Clear and concise as if it happened to me as a teenager or young adult. I must have been 4 years old at the time in the reception class of my Jewish Day School. I’m certain it was early in the school year as I recall not knowing many of my fellow classmates. I had gone to a different nursery – back in my hometown of Liverpool and here I was now in Manchester – a certain stranger in their midst! One day the teacher had set up many easels for the entire class to spend the morning painting. I clearly remember standing in front of this large blank white sheet pondering and puzzled as to where my paint brush should take me. Now, anyone that knows me well will testify that art and Alby Chait mix together like Pesachdik cereal and milk for breakfast. Not very well at all! So there I was swiping this way and splodging that way, colour after colour in my own world of “abstract art” – a right real mess if I am brutally honest! Anyway, I finished, unhooked my sheet from the easel to place it on the table where my teacher (Mrs Ashworth) was sitting. She had set up tables to let our pieces to dry and I placed it onto the table in front of her. Mrs Ashworth looked down at my work, her eyebrows lifted, she smiled. and swiftly arose from her chair and headed over to the other teacher, signalling frantically for her to come and see my work. Now both, leaning over the table astonished, astounded, overwhelmed, you could say – speechless – by Alby Chait’s presentation! And I simply could not understand this occurrence. I looked at it from where I was standing and all I saw was chaos! But on the other side of the table, they saw a masterpiece. Staring at me, this new boy from Liverpool that no-one knew, that spoke a tad funny; like I was the next Monet or the next Picasso. I was baffled – my teachers, who, were overcome in sheer amazement were in fact looking at my painting upside down. And they loved it! This was overwhelming – a lot for a 4 year old to take in! So, I did what anyone else would have done at the time. I moved around the table to the other side and joined them – now all three of us looking at my painting the wrong way round! But you had to see it to believe it! I was 4 years old and somehow – upside down I had created the most lifelike, most colourful, technically shaded, textured – speedboat! It was just like looking at the real thing itself! And, before I knew it – centre of the display wall in the reception classroom was ‘speedboat’ by Alby Chait. The Torah reading on the 7th day of Pesach is spectacular! The Jewish people had just left oppression and slavery in Egypt. Imagine the sense of freedom, that breath of liberation. But suddenly at arriving what seemed like a dead end, with absolutely nowhere to go – the Reed Sea. And what was worse, the Egyptians were chasing from behind. To be free or to be captive. The rollercoaster and everything in between so rapidly, so swiftly changing with no time to ponder what was to be next. The Rabbi’s tell us that every generation is obligated to view themselves as if they, personally, were brought out from Egypt. We are commanded to tell the story in the first person, as a story that is our story, today, in this generation, and so I ask you. If you were standing there on that day, in and amongst the Israelites foot on the sea shore, what would you have wished or hoped to happen? What would you have dreamt in heartfelt prayers toward the Almighty? Some groups among them were ready to fight the Egyptians; others preferred to drown in the floods of the sea than risk defeat and return to slavery in Egypt. A third group of the frightened and feeble began to complain to Moshe, fearing that he had lured them out of the safety of Egypt, the safety of Egypt to perish in the desert Now of course, up until this point in time all of the 10 plagues that G-d had brought were directed toward Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Not the Israelites themselves! G-d wanted King Pharaoh to ‘let my people go’. So had the Almighty so suddenly sent a bolt of lightening or a desert landslide or something similar to slay the oncoming Egyptians – we would not have been surprised and perhaps from that day forward throughout history we would have known of the 10 plagues and the ‘death by the sea’. It does not seem far fetched. It would have fitted the biblical narrative! But what actually happened was incredible. The cause and the effect – the miracle by the hand of the Almighty, the splitting of the Reed Sea was calculated and directed toward the Israelites. For them! Perhaps the greatest miracle humankind ever experienced! And of course every day in our prayers we sing the Shirat Hayam – the song of the sea. No-one can second guess the Almighty. What is the plan of G-d is the plan of G-d. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways, Says the L-RD.” (Isaiah 55:8) Our task? We can but only pray and follow in the beautiful way of life the Almighty G-d has bestowed and gifted to us. Things happen to each and every one of us; happy and sad and everything in between but we must believe as an ingredient of that divine master plan. The greatest level in our faith, is to accept that life is not just from on high, not just without reason but yet somehow and in someway always for the right, just and betterment of us all. Sometimes we may think a near impossible feat. Sometimes what may seem like chaos on one side of the table, as Jewish people we believe is a masterpiece on the other. This Pesach – a time many feel spiritually and religiously connected, let us embrace and draw near to G-d unconditionally. Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth, and we renew our relationship at Pesach with our Creator. In the Shema we recite the verse “I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d”. The redemption from Egypt was not just so we could be free from oppression – it was so we would be free to serve the Almighty. Sometimes what may indeed seem like chaos on one side of the table, as Jewish people we believe is a masterpiece on the other. Gila, Arielle and Emily join me in wishing each and every one of you and your families a Chag Kasher Vesameach – a happy and most meaningful Passover.