“Black holes ain’t as black as they are painted,” Stephen Hawking once said. “Things can get out of a black hole, both to the outside and, possibly, to another universe. So, if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.”
This advice feels especially relevant this week, as we deal with the emotions that have swirled around and through us as we learned more and more about the plight of some 2,400 children taken from their parents, would-be immigrants hoping for a better, safer life for themselves and their children. Sorrow, anger, despair, outrage, frustration… all of these and more have filled our hearts.
As I read this week’s Torah portion, I thought about the many emotions that Moses must have felt. Certainly frustration – once again, the Israelites were complaining, blaming him for everything that went wrong. And anger – so much anger that he snapped at the Israelite people before he struck a rock to produce water for them, even though God had told him to speak to the rock, not hit it. (To read the whole episode, see Numbers, chap. 20).
What happened to him? The people had been complaining ever since they left Egypt. This incident was no different; in fact, their complaint was nearly identical to their earlier grumblings.
But one important thing had changed: Miriam had just died. Moses had lost his sister, one of the people he had relied upon for forty years in the desert, the woman who rescued him from certain death when he was an infant, found him a foster mother, danced in celebration with him at the edge of the Reed Sea.
And so, at this delicate point in the journey, forty years after leaving Egypt and at the verge of entering the Promised Land, I imagine that Moses found his heart filled with emotions; frustration, anger, sorrow. And for one brief moment, he lost his temper, shouted at the people, struck the rock.
Sorrow can do that to us.
But then there’s the next moment, when we have to pick ourselves up and get on with the day, with the work at hand. That’s what Moses did, and that’s what we as a nation have to do now. Because there is much more at stake than the lives of 2,400 children and their parents. The heart and soul of our nation is at stake.
Stephen Hawking was crippled by ALS, a disease that imprisoned him in a body that was virtually useless. And yet for decades he continued to use his mind, create important science, write books, experience joy. He found a way out of the black hole that had swallowed him. We can do the same.