It’s always something.
Our family seems to be plagued with an odd tradition. The day or two before Passover, some technical disaster is likely to strike. Last year, my mother’s kitchen sink backed up. Another year our fridge went on the blitz, with hours and hours worth of cooking at peril inside. Another time it was the stove; one year it was the dryer. I was hoping this year, with the weather being so beautiful, and the health issue we are still navigating, we would emerge unscathed.
Anechtege tog, as they say. We should only be so lucky! We weren’t.
It was midnight, with Thursday silently dissolving into Friday, when two great flashes lit up the night. After the second flash, darkness. The drill in our house is to quickly bleed the water pipes when the power goes out because we have a well. Without power to work the pump, we have no water. So we move fast to drain the pipes, collecting the water in pots and jars and pitchers and bowls before gravity has its way.
As I rushed to do that, my husband was busy calling BGE. We had bigger problems than the water, he said. Our transformer, the one that hangs on the pole not more than 70 feet or so from the house, blew up. The tree next to it is smoldering, a ring of red embers visible on its side.
The good news was that the outage was limited to two houses. The bad news was that one of them was ours. And it was the weekend before Passover. Of course.
The explosion caused the wires to rip off their housing, so BGE will be here soon, by 3:30 am they say. (It is now 1:04) They don’t like downed wires. One is lying in our driveway.
I keep wondering what sort of lesson I can glean from all this. The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Yohanan taught: “Had the Torah not been given to us, we would have learned modesty from the cat, honesty from the ant, and faithfulness from the dove.” That is an astonishing claim. It professes that the human values that drive decency and civility may be discovered in the very fabric of creation; that nature, the creation of God, harbors the secrets of a good life in its very DNA. We can learn the lessons of the sacred from the natural world around us, if we but know how to look and listen.
I am rather certain that technology, the creation of humanity, cannot do the same. It is hard to learn civility from a toaster. I am sure that a broken oven is just a broken oven, and an exploding transformer is just failed technology. Sitting here in the darkness, the room lit only by the light of my computer screen, listening in the quiet to the rain falling all around, I am reminded just how much we are creatures of this earth, and so utterly dependent on its presence and goodness, even to fire up our technology. For at root, technology is just the creative use of stuff we find, of nature. We cannot make anything. All we do is change the forms of things we have. How blessed we are, then, when the earth is healthy and fertile and abundant, and how cursed we are when it is not.
Pharaoh learned the same lesson. It was, after all, the natural devastation resulting from the plagues that did his nation in. No power, no people, can thrive when their water is undrinkable, their animals sickened, their harvest consumed, their bodies wracked with pain. Civilization was supposed to save us from such natural predators. Instead, it turned into a predator of its own.
Perhaps that is yet another lesson of Passover: that we need to seek redemption not only from the political oppression of other nations, but from the spiritual compulsion of our own behaviors, habits and appetites. That is reason enough for the excessive cleaning and for changing the ways we eat for a week. Just enough time to give us a break to make a new start.