Let me ask you a question: What if a brutal dictatorship came to power in the United States and you were suddenly faced with the choice to leave the only home you ever knew? Would you stick around and hope for the best, or would you flee the country that your family has lived in for generations? Sound like an easy choice? Now, what if you didn’t know where you were going, how you were going to get there, or how you were going to support your family once you arrived? Are you beginning to get the picture? Difficult decisions often look easy in hindsight – especially when you’re not the one making them. I often hear people question why so many Jews stayed in Europe prior to World War II, but when we put ourselves in their place, we begin to realize just how much courage and faith it must have taken for them to leave.
It took the same courage and faith for the Jews to leave Egypt, 3000 years earlier. Imagine the scene as Moses instructs two to three million Jews to pick up and walk into a barren, inhospitable wasteland with little more than the clothes on their backs. What were they going to eat? Where were they going to find water? How were they going to survive the scorching days and the bitter cold nights! It’s not surprising that according to our oral tradition, only one fifth of the Jews actually left while the other four fifths remained and perished in Egypt. Even God was impressed by the courage and faith of the one fifth who chose to leave.
“I have remembered for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, how you walked after me into a wilderness, into a land that was not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2)
So here’s the real question: Why did some people choose to leave and live while others chose to stay behind and die?
As far as I’m concerned, the ones who stayed behind were smart. Anybody with a even a modicum of intelligence who thought about what it would take to move two to three million people through a desert wasteland would have stayed behind. Never mind all those miracles. It simply wasn’t feasible. This being said, there’s a problem when it comes to intelligent people: Intelligence is highly overrated. Intelligent people have a tendency to complicate matters and miss the point: In this case, I believe they got lost in the hopeless complexity relating to how they were going to leave before making the simple commitment to go.
When it comes to many of life’s most important endeavors, you have to make sure to get the “what” and “why” straight before you drill down on the “how.” You have to be clear on what it is you’re passionate about before you commission the feasibility study. In fact, asking how before clarifying the “what” and “why” can be the kiss of death for many an undertaking. Take marriage for example: Imagine if you needed to work out all of the potential issues with your spouse before popping the question. Imagine if you made a list of all of the things you’ll need to learn, and all of the obstacles that you’re likely to encounter along the way. Who in their right mind would ever get married? (I believe this is the reason why many people have a tough time committing to relationships – but we’ll save that for another time). This is why attraction and chemistry are so important in the early stages of a relationship. It’s that initial burst of passion that launches the couple on their path and supplies them with the patience and energy to figure out all the “hows” along the way. And by the way, the inverse is also true: As soon as the couple gets bogged down in the issues to the point where they forget what got them in the game in the first place, that’s when the trouble begins.
The Jews who left Egypt knew with utter clarity that they had to leave. Sure, they had no idea how they were going to pull it off, but they were willing to take a leap of faith regardless. Perhaps they understood that if they had to get out of Egypt, then getting out must be possible even if they had no idea how. Those who stayed behind on the other hand, focused on feasibility before they had clarified what they needed to do. Once they went down that road, it was game-over. As far as they were concerned, it made more sense to die in the comfort of their homes then to knock themselves out on what could only end up as a suicide mission.
If questions about viability deter us from pursuing our goals, we would be well advised to take a good look inside. Odds are we never fully resolved to achieve them in the first place. An even simpler way of saying this is: whenever someone says “I can’t,” it usually means “I don’t want to.” I’ve learned this from my kids. Whenever they get their hearts set on something – no matter how much of a long shot it may be – they seem to magically forget the meaning of the word “no.” It never ceases to amaze me. No matter how firmly or how many times I say no; they just keep asking. (I know a very successful fundraiser who claims that you can learn volumes about fundraising from your kids). But if I ask them to do something simple, like empty the dishwasher or clean up the pile of clothes on their floor, all of the sudden they can’t.
When we discover our passion and identify the unique gift that we were put in this world to share, there’s no “how” in the universe that can stop us. Sure, we’ll have to deal with all sorts of challenges and impediments as we progress, and we’ll probably have to make numerous course corrections along the way, but like a lost traveler determined to find his way home, our inability to see the road ahead will never deter us from devoting every last bit of energy we have to reaching our destination.