Passover asks us to review and to challenge our way of thinking about ourselves and our interactions
This year, the first night of Passover falls on Friday, April 19th. We won’t have Shabbat services at the Synagogue that night since most of us will be gathering around our own family tables to share in the first seder. In our seder we include Shabbat prayers. On Saturday night, April 20th, the congregation will have a second night seder (see the website for registration). We hope you’ll join us for this warm family event.
Did you know that our weekly Shabbat services include Pesach prayers? The G’ulah prayer, most commonly know as the Mi Chamocha, is a weekly reminder that we came out of Egypt and, even in the Kiddush for Shabbat, it “recalls the Exodus from Egypt” i.e., zecher litziat Mitzrayim. So why is the Exodus from Egypt such a major theme in our weekly Shabbat and yearly Festival services? Here are two very powerful reasons.
Know where you came from – that you were a stranger once in a strange land.
Weekly at Shabbat, and for a week during the year, we’re supposed to reflect upon the idea that we were once unsettled, cast from what we knew, and faced with a new situation. The Torah recounts how some nations helped us and some hindered us – in some situations we stood our ground and fought, and at other times we changed our direction to avoid conflicts. Sometimes we followed our leaders and other times we lost faith and made false gods, and, through a lot of it, we complained. These travelogues are reflections of universal situations. In moving from a job, a relationship, or a home, there are some who will help, some who will hinder, and some who will just complain. By reflecting on how our ancestors handled their situations, we can reflect on decisions they made and decide if they handled their challenges wisely. Would we have done what they did or chosen differently? They could have reached the promised land in 40 days, but, due to their own inability to imagine what a new life could look like, a generation had to pass before progress could be made. Sometimes transitional time is necessary – sometimes it is not. These parables also challenge us to think not only at how the situations affect us, but also with the humility of asking ourselves are we the Pharoah with a hardened heart, the hinderers, the non-helpers in our own lives? So, truly the question these inferences to the Exodus ask us weekly on Shabbat, and Passover, is: “Am I doing the best for myself, my family, my community, or am I hindering anyone from being the best they can be?”
These references to the Exodus also remind us to be gentle with each other and to strive to find our commonality. People are at different places – emotional, physical, spiritual – throughout their lives. Sometimes we understand where we are and where others are and we choose wisely. Sometimes we rebel against the past, sometimes we are passive, and sometimes we simply don’t know enough to make an informed decision or ask a good question. We need humility and sensitivity to understand where we and others are in life’s journey, and then find a way to connect with them and see our diversity as a positive thing. Obviously, we can’t be wise in every situation. Let’s allow ourselves to lead when we are more knowledgeable and follow when we have to learn.
You have been released from slavery.
I believe this is the most profound message from the Pesach story. It makes us confront ourselves and take ownership that the only one who enslaves us now — is ourselves. We have the power to release ourselves from the slavery of a bad work environment, an unhealthy relationship, or from our own harmful habits. Change is not always comfortable; change is not always easy. The Israelites went out into the desert, not into an oasis; it was not an easy time. They were led into a desert without structures and sustenance. They had to find it within themselves to first become a united people and then to build a better world for themselves and their children by using their imaginations and their talents. Somehow in the desert they were able to build the Mishkan; somehow they had the gold, jewelry, and dolphin skins (no idea where they came from) and the talent and leadership to bring it to fruition. Making a change can sometimes be liberating and sometimes be painful. Know that we, your clergy, are here during these transformations. We can help or at least help get you to those who can.
These are very powerful tenets: Know where you came from – that you were a stranger once in a strange land and You have been released from slavery. It’s one of the reasons I believe that Passover is not just one seder – or possibly two – it is seven days, a week-long period that asks us every year to examine our world and how we exist in it. For me, the world can seem too big to feel I have enough influence, so I focus on my spheres of influence and ask myself: “Are the people who are in my life and the things I do reflect the values I believe?” Do we treat the people with whom we meet with respect and help in the areas we have expertise? Do we treat ourselves, psychologically and physically, with respect and attempt to move ourselves to a healthier space, physically, mentally, and emotionally? Are we seeking the help we need and are we giving the help we can?
These are the more important contemplations around Pesach. It’s not the matzah – that’s too easy and the focus on it only distracts us from the real work of the festival. Passover asks us to review and to challenge our way of thinking about ourselves and our interactions. That’s harder and it takes more than one seder to do it. So this Passover, let the seder be the opening of both the internal and external conversations and contemplations – may each of us rise to the occasion and see ourselves as coming out from Egypt in order to create a world in which we all can live truthfully and thrive.
- Set the Category to “Monthly Clergy Message”