April 19th is a special weekend. The weekend marks not only the beginning of our Passover holidays but also for Christians around the world it marks Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The fact that these two holidays are celebrated on the same weekend provides multiple opportunities for people of good will to explore ways to make the world a better and more caring place. It also provides opportunities for respectful interfaith dialogue and for an understanding of each other’s culture.
We celebrate the Passover holiday with what might be called the world’s greatest on-going feast: the Passover Seder. Passover has a strange hold on people. Though it is the hardest holiday to keep, (who really likes eating matzah by day 8?) it is also the most popular. Even the least religious of us somehow find his or her way to a Passover seder and manages to enter into the spiritual magic that is Passover. It is at the seder that each of us re-experiences the horrors of slavery and the hope of freedom. It is at the Passover seder that we actively, not only remember our history but also liberate our souls from the slavery of ignorance and prejudice.
Passover is about freedom: its theme: “bchol dor v’dor chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatzah miMitzrayim: in each and every generation, we all must see ourselves as personally having been liberated from the tyranny of slavery.” These are powerful words in a world that still knows too much physical, economic and political slavery; bigotry and tyranny.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when anti-Semitism very much still exists. The fact that the US Congress failed to address specifically the curse of anti-Semitism reminds us that we need only read a newspaper or watch television to see how little the world cares. If we like it or not, anti-Semitism is very much alive in Europe. Recent reports indicate that over three-quarters of European Jews have experienced some form of anti-Semitism.
On the US border, sex and child trafficking are a daily event, and just across the border, we find not only four of the world’s five most violent cities but a total disregard for human life. Today we suffer from the plague of human trafficking, and slavery that has reached medieval proportions. Organizations that should be defending the helpless have instead, as in Biblical Egypt, chosen to remain silent.
Although the actual plagues mentioned during Passover may have changed, too many of us still suffer from personal plagues. How many of us are slaves (addicted) to vices? How many people suffer from the curse of needless worry, anxiety, laziness, or jealousy? Is not the national opioid crisis not a plague of Biblical proportion brought on by our own lack of caring about our fellow citizens? Passover reminds us that to be free is in the words of Moses: “Shalach et Ami/Letting go” of giving the other person the right to be him/herself and of taking responsibility for his/her own actions.
Passover reminds us that it is easy to be ethical when one is in an ethical world, but the mark of real character is when we choose to be different in a world filled with selfishness and hiding from reality.
The Bible teaches us that our ancestors never learned Passover’s lessons and so spent 40 years in the desert. Are we any better? Let us hope that this special weekend helps all of us to learn Passover’s lessons. This weekend should serve as a reminder that it is our task to leave the spiritual desert behind and to move beyond selfish denial if we are ever to enter into a promised land. What do you think?
Youtubes of the week:
Three interpretations of Ma Nishtanah.
A classic Ma Nistanah:
The Maccabeats doing Ma Nishtanah:
The Lion King version: