For Jews the world over, the festival of Passover -- our celebration of the Israelite's leaving Egypt -- began on Monday night, April 14. Our major Passover observance is the Seder -- a meal whose narrative, foods, and songs tell the story of this event which is seminal to Jewish religious history. Because the Exodus is so very important to us, every aspect of the Seder ritual is designed to help us feel as if we all were somehow there. As if every Jew -- every one of us -- actually left Egypt.
But, of course, no Jew alive today could possibly have been present at this ancient liberation. We weren't literally there.
Or were we?
Rabbi Myra Soifer. PHOTO PROVIDED.
Mitzrayim is the Hebrew word for Egypt, that country of our exodus. From its Hebrew root, we learn that mitzrayim also means "straits" or "narrow places." The Israelites were leaving a place of very dire straits, including oppression and slavery.
None of us would want that literal experience of brutal servitude. In fact, Passover reminds us to work toward eradicating any modern-day slavery still extant.
But if Egypt/Mitzrayim means "dire straits," then perhaps we are all -- Jew and non-Jew alike -- real participants in the Passover saga. For surely we all sometimes dwell in narrow places -- sometimes even "tight spots" of our own making.
Most every religious tradition has a spring festival that, as the Earth is blossoming brightly, tells of rebirth. The Jewish insight on this theme urges us to look at the "narrows" from which we need to extricate ourselves. This is the time of year to set right whatever might be holding us back from personal and social freedom, peace, and wholeness. It's a time to do whatever we can to insure that all people are free. For only then can we all dance and rejoice -- with the ancient Israelites -- on the far side of whatever sea still blocks the way forward for us and all others.
May the ultimate source of holiness and wholeness help guide us across that sea!