After services this morning I took a long subway trek to the wilds of Queens, not far from where I grew up, to visit cousins of mine and their son and daughter, ages one and two. We ate lunch and spent a couple of hours shmoozing and watching my littlest cousin eat a rugelach. This sounds like an unremarkable way to spend the day, but was actually extraordinary: I have more amazing friends than anyone could ever want, but very few family with whom to hang out and do nothing. Some are dead; some are far away, both geographically and emotionally; and my parents, for a variety of reasons, some sensible, some not, lost touch with most of the others. But a few, like big, fat raindrops of blessings from the sky, quite literally found me as an adult, and we continue to rebuild broken connections and become great friends. I am very lucky. All day long I kept thinking about what the rabbi said at services on Friday night about a line in this week's Torah portion:
I will take you to Myself as a nation, and I will be to you as a God. You will know that I am God your Lord, the One who is bringing you out from under the Egyptian subjugation.
Velakachti etchem li le'am vehayiti lachem le'Elohim vidatem ki ani Adonay Eloheychem hamotsi etchem mitachat sivlot Mitsrayim. (Exodus 6:7)
The word usually translated as "subjugation" or "suffering," sivlot, is from a Hebrew root that can also mean "patience" or "tolerance." A Hassidic commentator interprets this as saying that that God--Who, of course, knew of the Israelites' plight all along--chose this particular moment to save us because we had become accustomed to our pain, and had learned to tolerate it. Our true enslavement was that we stopped looking for ways to escape our suffering.
So often we get used to pain, and even choose to indulge in martyrdom over taking the difficult steps to change and bring our lives to the next place they need to be. Because my parents lost touch with so many relatives, I used to think I was supposed to keep up the tradition--that close families were for other people, and I was meant to be stoic, hide my tears, and watch holiday dinners from the other side of the window. I think of how my niece and cousins reached out and saw past my walls, my enslavement to an affliction I believed I was meant to inherit, and am amazed at God for bringing these wise, patient and loving people into my life.