Life begins on the other side of despair. -Jean-Paul Sartre
Abraham, God’s chosen, is promised that he will be the father of a great nation, a nation with a land and a mission. However, it isn’t until the advanced age of 100 years that Abraham and Sarah are blessed with a single child, Isaac. When Abraham dies, the only land which belongs to the family is the plot where he buried his wife Sarah.
The territorial fortunes of the family don’t improve, as grandson Jacob and his clan are forced to leave Canaan because of the famine. Jacob dies in Egypt. Though Jacob’s body is returned to the ancestral plot, the family goes back to Egypt and their descendants are systematically enslaved by the Egyptian empire.
Rabbi Hirsch on Exodus 6:3 asks why the Israelite nation and its ancestors needed to suffer so, why the long, unnatural, arduous road to nationhood. God could have blessed Abraham with children earlier. Jacob with his large family could have started off the nation in their promised land in a natural fashion. Why did the nation need to start off enslaved in a foreign land?
“But then this nation would never have become ‘the people of God,’ the people who are to reveal God. Then this people, too, like all the other nations, would have been rooted solely in the world of things that can be seen and touched; like them, they would have had only physical foundations and would have understood their greatness and might only in terms of physical size and strength, aspiring to spiritual and moral attainments only as long as these would have been compatible with, and beneficial to, their material ambitions.”
“Men and nations had become chained to materialism…Through the emergence of the nation of Abraham… mankind would be freed from the bonds of materialism. That is why this nation had to begin where the other nations left off. It had to despair of itself, to lie prone, about to perish in its own blood, and it could rise to nationhood only through the Creator’s call.”
God needed to demonstrate to the Jewish people and to the entire world His hand in the creation and development of the nation of Israel. The miraculous, non-material nature of Israel, whose existence, survival and success defies all odds and all probability is the beginning of God’s plan of revealing Himself to humanity and bringing redemption from the chains of materialism. For better or worse, despair is part of that formula.
May we overcome despair and realize that many times it is the launching point to a new and better reality.
To the memory of Winston Churchill who passed away 52 years ago, today.