The Passover festival retells the Exodus story of the Israelites liberation from the bondage of Mitzrayim, Egypt. Mitzrayim holds the meaning in Hebrew of being stuck or in narrow straits, which makes it more of a state of being than a geographical place. Mitzrayim represents a system of institutionalized oppression and degradation.
Passover centers around a festive meal called a seder where symbolic foods and rituals aid in telling the story of liberation. The Passover experience tasks the Jewish people to examine liberation from the microcosm of the personal to the macrocosm of contemporary social injustice. We learn from the prophet Isaiah, “Untie the cords of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, break off every yoke… if you banish the yoke from your midst… then shall your light shine in darkness, and your gloom shall be like noon day. God will guide you always.” (Isaiah 56:6) None of us are truly free until we are all free.
Passover is about maintaining awareness of the condition of humanity on our planet and working together towards true social justice as well as examining our personal places of stuckness. We all have an internal Pharaoh who subjugates us with destructive messages; “you are inadequate, you are not worthy, you do not belong….” We also have an internal Moses an agent for Divine Source supporting our own personal liberation.
Early on in the seder there is a song that holds one of my favourite passages, “Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who need celebrate Passover.” There is a deeply spiritual commentary on this passage. If you know what you hunger for, come eat. In our world today many of us feel an internal hollow that we define as a hunger. We try to fill this perceived lack with all sorts of substances that essentially leave us feeling more empty and toxic. We fill the internal emptiness with food, alcohol, drugs, dysfunctional relationships, shopping therapy…. The risk of filling our lives and our very beings with stuff is that this stuff can enslave us and serve as a pathway to empower our personal Pharaoh.
The word for Passover in Hebrew is Pesach. One way to understand this passage is a beautiful play on words in Hebrew. If you don’t know what you hunger for pehliterally mouth, sach-literally talk as in dialogue. If you feel empty and don’t know how to fill it- talk to someone, get help, enter counselling.
The Exodus archetype is not about 'liberation from' but rather' liberation to'. The Israelites experience liberty only when they connect to Divine Source at the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai.
The emptiness we all sometimes experience is the internal soul space that is calling for transcendence and is aching for meaning and connection.
My hope for us all, not just my Jewish readers, is that right now when Spring is coming to renew our world we can each introspect on our personal life places where we are stuck; from the material realm to the realm of emotions and relationships, from the realm of ideas and world views to the realm of our relationship with Divine Source and the universe. I strongly sense is that in order for us to make positive change in the world of social justice we need to first work on our own personal liberation that leads to self realization.
Rabbi Harry Brechner is Rabbi of Congregation of Emanu-El in Victoria, B.C.
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* This article was published in the print edition of the TImes Colonist on Saturday, April 27th 2019
Photo by Jonathunder [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]