Tonight at 6:54 p.m. begins the first night of the eight day Jewish holiday of Passover. There is no doubt that many of us, this time of year, have sat around a seder table with our loved ones — whether they are our family members or closest friends — and helped to retell the story of the enslaved Israelites’ exodus from ancient Egypt, whose Hebrew name, Mitzrayim, refers to a narrow, constricted place. Indeed, for the Hebrew slaves forced to build pyramids for the Egyptian pharaoh, Ramses, Egypt was a burdensome land of constriction.
Armed with our time-honored Maxwell House Passover Hagaddah, even the most secular of Jews has taken turns re-living the biblical story of Exodus. While we are commanded to never forget the story of how a reluctant, speech-impaired Moses led the Israelites through the Sinai wilderness to the Promised Land (though Moses himself was not permitted to enter), many of us can relate to the tale’s more universal, contemporary themes of enslavement.
How many of us are slaves to our jobs, our computers, or our smart phones, or are obsequious to deadlines, manipulative relationships, or even — don’t laugh — food? Personally, I am subservient to a gigantic Katz’s pastrami sandwich, though for the next eight days I would have to eat it on boards of intestinal-blocking matzoh, instead of bread, verboten foodstuff during this eight-day festival. There is a reason why matzoh is called the “Bread of Affliction.” Oy.
For those of you who feel enslaved to anything at all in your lives… whether it is the twinkling eyes and irresistible smile of the cheating boyfriend / girlfriend you think you can’t live without; a huge, honkin’ slab of Junior’s cheesecake, or compulsively checking to see who just left you a comment on Facebook…
Now is the time to slow down (unless of course you have some angry Egyptians on fiery chariots chasing after you), take personal inventory, and just ‘Be.’ I’m not saying shut off your phones and step away from the computer — though, yes, if you are religious, you might want to do those things — but, stop, and reflect upon your freedom. Relish it.
Freedom is something many of us tend to take for granted here in the United States, since a lot of us have not experienced what it’s like to not have it. So that’s your assignment this Passover: Ponder the meaning of freedom (I’m talking to you, Mayor “Taker Awayer Of Things” Bloomberg!) And while the more religious among you give thanks to Hashem, all of us, throughout the year, should thank the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, and who defend our nation so that we never have to know what it is like to live without freedom.
Tonight also marks the 70th anniversary of the brave uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto:
“…the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, inspired by the Passover story, rose up against the Nazis and demonstrated that a struggling community of half-starved Jews had the power to hold out longer than countries like Poland and France against the Nazis oppressors.”
“Thus, in honor of the brave Jewish resistance fighters, a passage was written for Jews around the world to read during their Seders: ‘On this night of the Passover Seder, when G-d redeemed the Jewish people from slavery and oppression in Egypt, we recall that night, 70 years ago, the first night of Passover 1943, when the Germans assaulted the Warsaw Ghetto. On that Seder night the remnants of the Ghetto, the remnants of the Jews of Warsaw, the remnants of the 1,000 year old Polish-Jewish community rose up against evil and the enemy. Imbued with the call of Moses, they too declared, ‘Let my people go!’’
May their brave sacrifices and struggles for enduring freedom never be forgotten.
To all who observe, and to all who cherish freedom: Chag kasher v’sameach, a Kosher and joyful holiday, and a zisen Pesach, a sweet Passover.