At its core, it was a tale about being stuck, hemmed in and unable to move
For years I’ve wondered whether I’d ever get to use the phrase deus ex machina on these pages, but thanks to the brief, riveting saga of the massive Ever Given cargo ship stuck for days in the Suez Canal, that time has finally come.
Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary explains deus ex machina (pronounced “dayess ex makina”) this way: “A person or thing that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” When one of the world’s longest ships spends six days utterly, helplessly marooned, wedged between opposite banks of the Suez Canal as 350 freighters sit waiting to pass through, that qualifies as an apparently insoluble difficulty. And when, despite all the fevered, round-the-clock efforts to spring the ship, it is a fortuitously timed full moon that causes the tides to spring higher than usual, shaking the ship free of the Egyptian mud — well, that’s quite the unexpectedly contrived solution.
Not to mention that the solution came from the heavens, literally. The “deus” in the phrase, after all, means G-d.
Of course, the ultimate illustration of the concept is the long-awaited arrival of Mashiach Tzidkenu, may it happen speedily in our days. That will suddenly and unexpectedly provide a solution — the final one — to the seemingly insoluble twin difficulties of the Jewish People’s long exile and the descent of mankind into an abyss of depravity. What the world witnessed on the first day of Pesach this year was but a small harbinger of that (although at 1,312 feet, 2 inches — sometimes every inch counts — which is a full 200 feet longer than the longest American aircraft carrier, it’s hard to consider anything connected to the Ever Given as “small”).
But there was something else that rang deeply true for me about this episode. At its core, it was a tale about being stuck, hemmed in and unable to move in any direction. It was a real-time drama whose central theme was yetziah min hameitzarim, emergence from constricting straits. And its happy denouement came, ever appropriately, on the first day of Pesach.
A pedant might protest that the Ever Given didn’t just “feel” stuck, but was actually aground, mired in the marshes, while people’s “stuckness” often exists only in their brains and hearts. But really, anyone who’s ever been stuck knows just how real the predicament is. Besides, the way the ship first became stuck, too, was that a burst of powerful wind swung it around and wedged it sideways in the Canal — nothing more tangible or substantial than a wisp of air did this huge craft in.
But the main point is this: Even when it came to this real-life metallic Colossus, rivaling in size a prone Empire State Building, the manner in which it was eventually extricated owed little to all the strenuous exertions of men and machines over hundreds of hours. It happened when it was time for it to happen, and not a moment sooner. That’s true in the most literal sense: The closeness of the moon to Earth raised something known as a “perigean spring tide,” so called because the tide “springs” higher than usual. It was only something so totally subtle and imperceptible that freed that hulking heap of metal (and its cargo of 18,300 shipping containers) from its sand trap.
Mah shelo ya’aseh haseichel ya’aseh hazeman. Time achieves things no amount of physical toil or mental ingenuity can. We imagine the situation we’re in will never change, and we may be right. But we forget that with time, we change.
When you talk to people who use psychotherapy to help work through their stuckness, sometimes they can pinpoint the insights they gained that effected the change and the point at which they decided to change, to break free. But sometimes, they describe a much more subtle process of growth that took place without them even realizing it was happening.
They talked with their therapist and talked some more, explored and conjectured, went onto other topics and came back to old ones and discussed them anew. And one day, they realized they’re beyond walls they thought they’d never overcome, that would box them in forever, and they can’t really say how or when it happened. That’s been my experience too.
Real change happens, but it takes time, and often even catches us off guard.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 855. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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