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    A boring picnic if it goes on too long

    Slavery in Egypt, from a Dutch bible, 1728

    Some people quote the saying, “Life is no picnic”. Our Israelite ancestors certainly learned that freedom is no picnic. Imagine: years and years of slavery and now the release from prison. On your own, fending for yourself, finding things to do. The first few moments are exciting.

    But then? With all the freedom, boredom can set in.

    We vividly recall the feeling when we think of modern-day picnics. Getting ready is fun, enjoying the few hours almost stolen from life – but if it were all day, every day, from now to eternity? Sitting at a picnic is not always a picnic and we actually hanker after the discipline of being at work.

    The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is from tzar, “narrow”. Egypt was narrow because we were constrained. When we left, we somehow missed the constraint. At least there we knew who we were, where we were, who was in charge. Out on our own, where would we get food?

    In reflection, the poor-man’s bread of Egypt seemed like cake. The meat, fish and vegetables seemed like a banquet. We wanted to go back to where we did not need to find our own food. Fortunately, God did not want us to starve, so He gave us manna and the hunger was staved off.

    But in the long run He wanted us to become self-reliant. Abraham had dug wells to find water; we had to learn to look for our own water.

    Not only in the literal sense but metaphorically too. When Isaiah said, “Whoever is thirsty, come for water” (Isa. 55:1), the sages commented, “‘Water’ means Torah”. Spiritual and intellectual sustenance are necessary as well as physical nutriment. Without the nutriment of Torah something is missing.

    As free people we have to find a task, a message, a purpose. Without Torah there is no picnic for the heart, soul or mind.

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