Passover is in the air. I always vow not to start too early but as soon as Purim ends, some invisible force seems to overtake me and propel me towards cleaning my home. Resistance is futile and before I know it, I have emptied out shelves in my kitchen and am filling them with kosher for Passover ketchup, kosher for Passover Coke and matzah.
But just as I can’t avoid the cleaning, the shopping and starting to think about recipes and menus, I can’t stop myself from thinking about the holiday. What do I want to learn from it? How do I want to grow? What do I want to communicate to my kids, my grandkids, my students? Is there something to say that I haven’t said every other year? (Does anyone really remember anyway?)
I’ve actually hit on something that is more of a return to basics. Before all the magic tricks (yes there will still be some) and fancy acting out of the plagues, before handing out assignments for all our guests, before buying candies to reward good questions, before everything there is the essence of the holiday, the story of the Almighty taking us out of Egypt.
Sometimes the fundamental story gets lost amidst all the effort to make the holiday fun, relevant, interesting…and yet, it’s the basic story that counts the most. That is the essence of the parents’ obligation on Seder night.
We need to tell our children the story of what the Almighty did for us when He took us out of the slavery in Egypt. We need to explain to our children (and to ourselves) just exactly how dark that time in our history really was, the despair we felt, the level of impurity we sunk to, our inability to really think for ourselves. We were subjugated to the physical and psychological power of the Egyptians in every respect. We were in a narrow, constricted place. We were trapped.
When the Almighty took us out, He wasn’t subtle. There was no doubt about Who was in control and Who was engineering our deliverance. Because the Almighty wanted to give us an important gift, the gift of freedom – not just relief from the physical oppression (although that was certainly important) but freedom from the oppression of the mind, of the spirit, from the inability to make choices. In taking us out of Egypt, the Almighty gave us a new freedom, a freedom that would last forever.
Tyrants and dictators could restrict bodies, but not our souls.
How could this be? There have clearly been many instances since then when the Jewish people have been under the rule of other nations, have been oppressed, have been enslaved. But something changed. Never again would we experience an inability to choose our connection with our Creator. Because we were taken out of Egypt, we can now choose a relationship with God, whatever our circumstances. That’s why Natan Sharansky could be free to be a Jew while in a Soviet prison. That’s why our grandparents could make a Passover Seder in the shadow of the crematoria of Auschwitz. Because tyrants and dictators could restrict bodies, but not our souls.
This year, I want to focus on telling the plain yet amazing story – of a people, my people, who were trapped in the worst of circumstances and then taken out by a God Who loves them, Who treats them like His children, Who continues to be our Father in Heaven.
It’s not a complicated story. It’s a story of faith and trust and love and caring. It’s simple. It’s beautiful. It’s awesome. It’s exciting. It’s a story of gratitude and kindness. It’s our story – and it needs no embellishments.