A friend of mine recently celebrated the long-awaited arrival of his first child and almost overnight he became a different man. He drove his car a bit more cautiously. His facial expression looked a little more mature. His approach to work seemed more focused. While lovingly cradling his infant, he said to me, “Rabbi, I can’t believe what I created!”
I pretended not to hear him and cupping a hand about my ear, I asked, “What was that I heard?” He repeated what he had just told me. “No, no,” I said. “I heard you all right but I had to listen a bit more carefully to hear your son.”
“My son?” he asked, looking baffled. “Yes, your son just said exactly the same thing. He moved a tiny finger to point at you and he murmured, ‘Rabbi, I can’t believe what I created.’ “
I continued, “Yes, I think it true that more than a man creates a child, it is the child who creates a father.”
There are many life transforming experiences. Many have the potential to transform us into our higher selves while, of course, there are those experiences which will transform us into lesser beings. Then there are experiences, like watching cat videos on the Internet, which do nothing at all.
An experience that changes me in a negative way is certainly far from ideal, but it is probably superior to the experience that has zero impact on me at all. Moving in the wrong direction can stimulate us to make necessary course changes in our life, while stagnation quickly becomes a habit. Best of all, of course, are experiences that I can use to make me a bigger, better, perhaps wiser person than I was before.
Think of the language most often used to describe the Promised Land. Here is the first time Scripture describes Israel as “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
I have descended to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and
to bring them up from that land, to a good and spacious land,
to a land flowing with milk and honey…
Here is the last instance:
And You brought Your people Israel forth out of the land of Egypt…
And You gave them this land which You swore to their fathers
to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey.
On eighteen separate occasions, the Bible uses this distinctive phrase, a land flowing with milk and honey. You’d have thought that God could also have described Israel as a ‘land of mountains and valleys’ or a ‘land of rivers and streams’ or even as a ‘land of falafel and hummus.’ But no, time and again, it is a land of milk and honey.
Ancient Jewish wisdom identifies the special common characteristic of both milk and honey. Milk is a liquid that comes from an animal that needs much preparation to be kosher. It must be slaughtered in a ritually acceptable manner. Its blood must be entirely removed. Yet, even with all these restrictions upon the producing creature, the milk it produces is permitted immediately.
The bee, an unkosher insect, may never be eaten, yet the honey produced by this creature is permitted. Milk and honey are the two best examples of acceptable and wonderfully delectable products that we can immediately pop into our mouths and enjoy. Yet their sources are problematic. The bee is always forbidden, and the cow is permitted as kosher only after extensive and time consuming preparation.
God gives His people a land flowing with milk and honey which means a land filled with transformative potential. A place where even those of us with problems; seemingly insoluble problems like a bee, or complications like a cow, are nonetheless capable of producing milk and honey.
Whether or not we can literally live in the Promised Land, we can all aim for its benefits. These include realizing that our imperfections do not prevent us from producing milk and honey. Regardless of where we are in life, we can seek out transformative experiences that propel us forward into creating more than we ever imagined. My friend thought he and his wife had a baby. In fact he was experiencing the opportunity to transform into a father.