Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah -7th Day of Passover
We find ourselves in the midst of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The scriptural readings for the holiday period fall outside of the normal Torah cycle, as the sages feel that we should read the texts specific to the holiday, even if out of sequential context. Having just read the Exodus story a few weeks back, we get to read it again. It is almost as if the sages want to accuse us of not reading it well the first time around.
In part, they are absolutely correct. In reading the story the first time through, we read it as part of Israel’s ongoing saga. It is just a part of our story. By revisiting the texts, having just finished telling the story, and debating the symbols at our Seder tables, we get to see the text with new and more focused eyes. I submit that reading the story in the context of the “storyline” distracts us from seeing some of the powerful teachings that the story brings to the table.
Rereading it, in the context of the holiday, we see an entirely different emphasis. Ultimately, it does not matter whether there was a Moses or that specific Pharaoh. What matters is what freedom costs, what it calls on us to do to achieve and maintain being free, and what obstacles we have to overcome to get there. Egypt is not an eternal enemy of Israel. 2000 years ago, the Alexandria, Egyptian Jewish community was one of the largest and most influential in our history. Modern-day Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with the State of Israel. There has to be more to it than the Egyptians were evil people, and we needed to be free from them.
At the same time, we include this poem from Michael Walzer in our liturgy:
“Standing on the parted shores of history
we still believe what we were taught
before we ever stood at Sinai’s foot
that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt
that there is a better place, a promised land;
that the winding way to that promise
passes through the wilderness.
That there is no way to get from here to there
except by joining hands, marching together.
Tradition teaches us that Egypt is no more tied to the geographical location on a map than is Israel. Both may be locations, but both also stand as symbols for behavior. In the same sense that the word Israel speaks about acknowledging Faith (Jacob wrestling with God), Egypt reminds us of being lost in faith; we were servants to Pharaoh. Today, “Pharaoh” is the composite of oppressions under which we suffer or allow others to suffer.
The goal of Passover is not just to remember what slavery/oppression was/is like; it is to work to end it. The plagues leading to the Biblical exodus are the plagues we face in our own lives. The Biblical plague of blood ties into the modern plague of bloodshed. The Darkness transforms into the erosion of enlightenment. The killing of the first-born pairs with the ignorance and arrogance that destroy our future. We are not speaking about just the Jewish world or even just the nation in which we live. Passover reminds us that zeal for “me and my wants” only diminishes the value of the “we and what we need.”
For the holiday to have value, we must remember that freedom is like justice – it can never be about “just us.” We are speaking about caring for all people with whom we share the world and the environment/world upon which we are all mutually dependent.
We cannot just speak about change; we must create change. We cannot just speak about justice; we must create it. We must rethink our prejudice and our bigotry, our ignorance, and arrogance. We have to get over ourselves and help each other out of Egypt. “There is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands and marching together. We end each seder meal with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” The word Jerusalem also does not refer to a geography. The word means “A vision of peace.” Next year, at the very table at which I held seder this year, I want there to be a greater peace than I experience this year.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.