Each Passover, Jews retell the story of the exodus from Egypt—a story of a people emerging from slavery to freedom and from oppression to liberty. The Passover story gives us pause to reflect upon a spiritual adventure that began with Moses and ended in the promised land of Israel.
The roots of contemporary Judaism and Christianity lie deep in the Passover story of the Jews’ seemingly insurmountable victory over a vastly superior enemy, a tale of wandering in the wilderness and of redemption with God’s 10 Commandments.
The exodus from Egypt seemed impossible. Yet, somehow the Jews survived. The story echoes from one era of history to another in which enemies of the Jewish people attempted to annihilate them. Time after time, the Jews have been defeated, evicted and enslaved. Yet, each time, they manage to survive as a people. Repeatedly they return to Israel from the Diaspora.
The rallying cry at each Passover Seder is, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Jews are bound to retell the Passover story each year as though it is happening to them. And, all too often, persecution does crop up in new generations.
Humans can be particularly wicked with each other. Three thousand years ago, Moses pleaded with Pharaoh to free his people from persecution and slavery. The ten plagues that followed forced him to release the Jews. Yet even after the worst plague of all, the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt, Pharaoh pursued the Jews into the Red Sea where his soldiers were swept away.
Evil can be as powerful a motivator as love. During the Spanish Inquisition, suspected Jews were imprisoned, tortured and put to death. Nazi Germany systematically annihilated millions of Jews.
Yet, our cycles of survival and restoration over thousands of years give us hope. Like Easter, Passover occurs each year in the springtime—a season associated with rebirth. Symbols of death and rebirth are woven into Passover traditions from sacrificial lambs to the presence of an egg on the seder plate. While the overriding message of Passover is freedom, gratitude and spiritual devotion—the concept of renewal is strong as well and encourages us to observe the holiday in ways that will promote justice, kindness and renewal for others in each new generation.
As we try to experience the exodus afresh—and look for ways to promote justice and encourage freedom—we are reminded that even the reality of the Holocaust’s horror was not sufficient to repel all of humanity from continuing acts of genocide. Since the Holocaust, we have experienced mass murder and ethnic cleansing in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Anti-Semitism itself again is growing throughout the world. Why don’t we learn? When will it end?
During this Passover—and during this Easter if you are a Christian—I hope that we all can recommit ourselves to compassion, justice, freedom and the basic goodwill and acceptance we must learn in daily life.
Our shared hope for freedom lies in our unity in the face of hatred and intolerance. Instead of waiting for a miracle, let us create our own. Let each of us retell the story of the Passover as though we are personally a part of it. Moreover, as we retell the Passover story (and as Christians celebrate Easter), we can place ourselves in solidarity with current victims of genocide, slavery and intolerance. We have the power to defy fanaticism. We have the courage to fight for freedom.
Humans are not God—but we do have the power of choice. We can use our lives to help enslave—or to liberate. As we enjoy Passover and Easter this spring with our families, let us pause for a moment to ask what each of us can do to eradicate the evil that surrounds us. The rebirth of this spirit is the true meaning of Passover.
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