Sunday, April 17, 2011

Re-Thinking Passover

Ask any Hebrew School student and they'll tell you what Passover is all about: liberation from slavery. Once we were slaves and now we're free, and the Haggadah tells us that we are obligated to think of ourselves as though we ourselves left slavery in Egypt. The rabbis teach many important lessons about the exodus narrative: that when we stood at the Sea of Reeds, the waters would not part until one Israelite had the faith to walk into the water; that the slavery experience was educative, so that we would experience being Other and would hold onto that awareness no matter where we go as a people, no matter whether we are Other or the majority culture; and repeatedly we are told to take care of the vulnerable in society "because you were slaves in Egypt." Remember, says God, that I cared about you not only because you were My cherished people but because you were vulnerable. Remember that I care about the oppressed, that I want them to be cared for, and if you recall your experience under the burden of slavery you will remember to care for the oppressed wherever they are, because I care about them as well.

Lots to think about this time of year, along with the shopping and cleaning and cooking.

But I think that within the scope of the cleaning and the cooking and the moving dishes and pots from here to there, only to move them again in a week from there to here, there is another very important lesson to learn from the exodus experience. We are not in control.

Remember that we suffered 400 years as slaves. Finally, God says to Moshe, "the cries of your people have reached Me." We were liberated when God chose to liberate us. Of course, the obvious response is, what took God so long? And my answer is, I wish I knew. But that's the point. Liberation happened, not in our time but in God's time.

Then we moved out into the desert and began the trek from Egypt to Eretz HaKodesh (the Promised Land). A pillar of smoke and fire went before us to guide us. When the pillar settled, we made camp. When it lifted, we broke camp and moved on. I think the breaking up and setting up of camp is what we are emulating this time of year, and while keeping a second kitchen, maybe in the basement, so the moving of equipment is not necessary, is a great energy saving idea, it allows us to miss the point - kind of like kosher for Passover bagels and muffins. You can make them, but how do you remember it's Passover? It's precisely the packing and moving that puts us back in the desert.

And we didn't move when we felt like it. We moved when the pillar moved. What was the impetus to move? Who knows? But when the time came to break camp and move on, women packed pots and men gathered the animals, and children and the elderly were put on goats and in carts, and the whole multitude moved on. For 40 years, we were not in control. We had a sense of our goal, but not of how long it would take nor what precisely the route would be. We had no Auto Club to help plan the most direct route. We depended on God's direction, and that and the manna were all we had.

Not much has changed. We are not in control, not really. A Yiddish proverb says, Man macht und Gott tracht - We plan and God laughs. When and whether we find our life partner, when and whether we have children, how successful our professional life will be - much of this is in our hands, but much is not. How quickly things come to pass, how fast we progress along our life's path, how readily we perceive the truths around us - much of all this is not in our hands. And we are frustrated and impatient and want things to be different.

At this time of year, as we imagine ourselves as having left Egypt with Moshe and the mixed multitude, perhaps we should also be thinking of how impatient we were as we moved across the desert, and how little of that trek was in our hands. (Come to think of it, the only part of our lives that's in our hands is how we react, and as I recall, the Israelites whined for 40 years, so much so that God decided not to allow the generation of the exodus to enter the Land. So much for the efficacy of kvetching.)

All is in God's hands, the rabbis teach us, except the fear of God. The point of that expression is that viewing God with awe is our choice, but the first part is equally important: how we respond to our lives has only one effect, and that is to define the quality of our lives - are we content, are we stressed, are we angry, are we at peace with ourselves? Putting ourselves back on the desert might teach us an important lesson in patience and looking at life from the long view. Israel got home. And so, eventually, will we.

Hag same'ah - may you have a sweet and kosher Pesah.

No comments: