Trying to get to a place of feeling enslaved in Egypt so as to feel a fuller freedom
Please remember to fill out your chametz form and get it to the Rabbi by April 7th. We will not able to sell your chametz beyond that point and we will not be receiving the forms the next morning as the firstborn siyyum will happen virtually.
On Pesach, we are obligated to tell the story of the holiday; the exodus, the going out of Egypt. We are so bound by this obligation that even if we are wise and scholars, afilu Hahamim afilu nevonim, etc., we cannot desist from reliving the exodus of the past because for those who “elaborate on the telling of the exodus on Pesach it is praiseworthy." We read, in the Haggadah, of the scholars in Bnai Brak who told of the going out of Egypt until the sun came up. There is even the idea that we should tell the story, not only day and night, but in this world and in the world to come on Pesach, and even in Yemot Meshiah, in Messianic times…think about that a second! In the time when all will be free, all will be left alone to study in security under the shade of their own fig tree–even then, when Pesach comes around, we should recall Egypt and the time of slavery!
Why the obsession with telling the story? Don’t we know the story that we came out fertig; we were happy and joyous as we wandered in the desert? Isn't it just as the joke says, "they tried to enslave us, to kill us, we won, let's eat." Isn’t that enough? And why the obligation only on this holiday? And why isn’t it required to tell the story of the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot (we study Torah all night, but not of the specific event of receiving the Torah). Why isn’t it required on Sukkot to retell and relive how, early in the desert wanderings, we were surrounded by the clouds of providence? Why must this be on Pesach and why the elaboration through the night?
One answer is that while the liberation happened at the moment of midnight, when the firstborn were struck and the Pharaoh realized he had to let the Jews go free, it wasn’t until daybreak that the Israelites started their departure. The moment of freedom is thus extended for these hours through the night. Many years ago, I was a prison chaplain. The prisoners reflected on this– they could relate. The parole board may stamp your card “released,” but until you hear the metal doors close behind you, you don't believe it.
We have to see ourselves as though we too came out of Egypt, and so we speak about it together at the Seder table. Pesach can also mean a “moving mouth.” There are still millions of people, many of them children, in the world that are actually slaves. There is trafficking of people even in the US. We also well know that there are plagues galore in the world. The plague of pollution, of climate change, of dwindling diversity, the plague of income inequality, the plague of discrimination and unequal pay for even the same tasks. And of course, today we are all in the midst of a plague unfolding, not certain if we or a loved one or friend or acquaintance will be a victim.
Perhaps that is the whole point of clearing the home of chametz–the cleaning, the schlepping, the intense preparation. And perhaps that is the purpose of holding off the Pesach meal to really thinking about our past and our present enslavements, whatever they might be. We too were/are enslaved, and we too can be unfettered by the embrace of God and by the affirmation of Torah and Mitzvah. We are a free people but yet still enslaved in so many ways, emotionally and intra-psychically, to false notions, and to exaggerated self-assessments. And maybe, just maybe, we are enslaved by an exaggerated notion of radical freedom, which simply enslaves us to the next fad and the next. May we understand, therefore, that we must never stop thinking about our enslavements personally and as a society, and never stop trying to be open about them, and never shirking to combat them. Because not only are we obligated to feel as if we too came out of Egypt, we are also never free from admitting that freedom is an aspiration never quite achieved.
Beth and I wish all of you, from the bottom of our hearts, a meaningful and healthy Pesach, and in its smaller scale way, a joyous one.
Chag kasher ve sameach