by Yoni Sarason
Happy Summer in March!
Weather aside, the Jewish calendar let’s us know Spring has arrived through the celebration of Pesach/Passover. The holiday, which is filled with symbols of rebirth (eggs, parsley, etc.) is also host to what has been called the central narrative of the Jewish people; the Exodus from Egypt. In retelling the story every year of our journey from slavery to liberation, we recommit ourselves to both memory and to working towards a world in which we are all free from physical or mental bondage.
So that you don’t have to search, I’ve distilled what I believe to be the most interesting things about the Pesach holiday and story into a few ideas:
1. Compassion is the basis great leadership. Much like Harry Potter, being saved from a certain death by his mother’s compassion, Moses’ life is saved by three women; his mother, his sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter. We are taught that this compassion, conferred upon Moses early in his life, allowed him to hear the suffering of the Israelites and be motivated to act on their behalf.
2. We must understand inequality and actively work to counter it. The first actions we read about Moses taking are quick and occur in rapid succession. First, he leaves the palace, second, he sees an Israelite being struck by an Egyptian and kills the Egyptian. Next, he sees to Israelites fighting and intervenes, they call him out on killing the Egyptian and he flees Egypt. Finally, he sees women being accosted as they try to tend to their flock and defends them. We learn that these actions represent an ideal of behavior. First we must make a conscious decision to understand the injustices of the world, as Moses does by leaving his cushy life in the palace. Once we have seen injustice, it is our duty to act against it, as Moses does with the Egyptian taskmaster, the arguing slaves, and the women at the well. It is this willingness to ask, combined with Moses’ humility that we understand to be the reason he is chosen to lead the Jewish people from Egypt.
3. We cannot progress when we are narrow-minded. Speaking of Egypt, or Mitzrayim, as it is known in Hebrew, is an interesting word. The literal translation of Mitzrayim is ‘from the narrow places’. We can understand this as a metaphor for the creation of the Jewish people, where the narrow places are the womb, and the exodus is the process of birthing. Alternatively, it is taught that the narrow places represent a non-expansive world view. When we are narrow in our thinking, we do not create to our full potential. Only through an exodus from this perspective to expansive thinking can we truly see the world and identify our purpose within it.
4. Memory is powerful. We are specifically commanded to remember the exodus from Egypt, and the seder itself is a highly ritualized reenactment of our journey from bondage to freedom, replete with foods, songs, stages,and stories to carry us from point to point. In envisioning ourselves as freed slaves, we may better empathize with those still not liberated. Further, in helping our peers and children to live this ritual, we ensure the continuity of these ideas and work towards a more just world.
May your Passover help you to ask important questions and find more gratitude and meaning.
Yoni Sarason is the Midwest Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation