Getting To Freedom (Bulletin Message for Passover 5775)

Shalom Sons of Israel,

During Passover, as we do on many other holidays, we have the occasion of reciting a special berakhah upon the first time during a year or for the first time in a significant range of time: Barukh attah Adaonai, Eloheynu melekh ha’olam sheheheyanu vekiyyemanu vehiggi’anu lazzeman hazzeh (“Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has given us life and established us and helped us reach this moment”). With this blessing—“the sheheheyanu,” a blessing for sacred newness—we demand of ourselves the reassurance that this year’s Passover will be different from last year’s Passover, and all the Passovers we’ve ever experienced.

So, what is new that we are experiencing this year? Maybe where we were last year at this time is different from where we are now as we enter the spring of 2015. Maybe we’ve seen some friends leave, and some new friends come into our lives. Maybe there’s new family in our lives in 2015, and family who will not be joining us for the first time this year.

In our Haggadah—our “narrative”-book we read during the Passover seder—we echo the words of the Mishnah (Pesahim 10:5) when we say, “In every generation, every person is obligated to see one’s self as if they have left Egypt.” In just a few words, the Jewish tradition begs that we be able to tell the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt as if we had been one of the Jews who left Egypt under Moses’ leadership. With such imaginative thinking, we must remind ourselves that the exodus from Egypt is not merely history of the past, but the exodus narrative is a framework through which Jews can tell their future, through the perspective of relived history.

Yet, for those of us who have not lived lives of political oppression or the feelings of being exiled or persecuted because of our religious and cultural Jewish heritage, there still must be meaning for us in the seder.

Around the 5th century, a commentary on Exodus known as Mekhileta DeRabbi Shim’on Bar Yohai began circulating. In this work, we read an enigmatic teaching in the name of Rabbis Yehoshu’a and Eli’ezer: “They were redeemed in the month of Nisan, and they will be redeemed in the month of Nisan” (12:42). The Hasidic master Rabbi Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, in his collection of teachings Me’or Eynayim (from the end of the 18th Century) explains how he solves the puzzle of that phrase. Nisan, the Hebrew month in which Passover takes place, was the month when our Torah tells us the Israelites left Egypt, and they were thus redeemed. And as for the redemption of the future, the next Nisan redemption will not be a great historical event, but a personal redemption: a redemption from the sorrows we meet on a daily basis. In fact, Me’or Eynayim tells us something that should shock historians: Jewish slaves in Egypt conducted their own seder that is identical to the one we do today (Tzav). The only way that this can be possible is if we believe that redemption is not a historical event; our exodus transcends time.

At the root of Mitzrayim, the Hebrew name for Egypt, we see the words “narrowness” “sorrow.” In many times in life, we can find ourselves trapped in the confines of personal sorrows. During our seder, we are obligated to see ourselves as escaping Mitzrayim. If our slavery-bound ancestors could be redeemed, so can we.

May this Passover be a sweet season of liberation,

Rabbi Jonah Rank

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