This weekend begins the Passover celebration. For most of us, it’s mainly about food – the foods we eat during the seder and throughout the week, and the foods we don’t eat. In other words, matzah, matzah, and more matzah.
Except for the several hours at the Seder table, it’s easy to forget the story that the holiday asks us to remember. Which is a shame, because it is so much more than an epic tale about slavery in Egypt, escalating plagues that end in widespread death, and the drama of crossing the Reed Sea.
And simply remembering is not sufficient. Our tradition teaches us that it is not enough to remember the Exodus. We must tell the story, and extend its message of hope and freedom into our own time and into our own lives.
Because this observance is a reminder that, as Rebbe Nachman of Braslov taught, “the Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, in every era, in every year, and in every day.”
How can that be? Did not the Exodus happen thousands of years ago, if it even happened at all? How can it be relevant to us? Its relevance comes from the meta message – because it is ultimately about personal liberation, about traveling through psychological places of fear and constriction to places of openheartedness and hope.
As Rabbi Yitz Greenberg wrote, “To be fully realized, an Exodus must include an inner voyage, not just a march on the road out of Egypt.”
What is this inner voyage, and how do we begin? We can take a clue from the Seder itself, which begins with a list and teaches us to ask questions. So here are some questions to get yourself started:
1. What material things enslave me? How can I free myself?
2. What ideas enslave me? Is it possible to see things from a different point of view?
3. Not all miracles are supernatural. What miracles have I experienced? What miracles do I wish to celebrate this year?
4. It is customary to say a personal prayer when lighting Shabbat and holiday candles. What prayer is in my heart this Passover, for myself, for my family, for my community?
The Hagaddah also provides us with a call to action, moving from the inner, personal journey to an outer, communal one: “Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate Pesach.”
It is easy to understand the invitation to include all who are hungry. But why add the words “all who are in need”? I believe it is because there are many different types of hunger – physical, yes, but also spiritual and social.
We are told to remember those who need physical sustenance, and to remember those who need the sustenance of community. There are so many people in need, so many people who are enslaved, so many who are suffering. The message of Passover, the message of hope, of liberation, of personal freedom, rings true in every age.
May you be blessed with joyous seders, the love of friends, family and community, and a meaningful remembrance of this pivotal moment in our shared history.
And to those of my friends and family who celebrate Easter, may your celebration be joyous and meaningful.