Traditions: Passover

Each month Oregon Jewish Life will ask a group of rabbis, cantors, educators and/or members of the community a question relevant to the season or a theme in that issue. For April, we asked rabbis to reflect on Passover’s message of freedom.

Rabbi Glenn Ettman
Temple Beth Tikvah, Bend

The holiday of Passover is the paradigmatic message of freedom to every community in the world; we see allusions to the story in many realms of our world society. As such, the holiday of Passover is the quintessential reminder of the power and importance of Freedom. Each year, every member of the Jewish community on this planet, remembers, celebrates and revels in what it means to be free from an oppressor. The story certainly is old, and perhaps even oftentimes challenged in its historical authenticity, but the point of the story is what is paramount and supremely relevant today. The message of Passover is that we each must celebrate what it means to be free. We have seen this message reverberating through the world community from the cries of civil rights, to apartheid, and most recently to the voices in Tahir Square, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and even our own country. The holiday of Passover forces us to remember, for one week every year, what it means to taste freedom for the first time and reminds us to celebrate the very fact that we are blessed to be free.

Rabbi Ariel Stone
Congregation Shir Tikvah, Portland

For me, one of the most compelling messages of Pesach for our modern world is rooted in the Hassidic pun which reads the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, as meytzarim, “narrow places.” It was not easy for our ancestors to find the courage to take the fateful step away from enslavement and into what Erich Fromm called “the insecurity of freedom”; it is no less difficult for us to find the courage to look honestly at our lives and identify what enslaves us, much less to take a step away from it, and toward wholeness. According to an ancient midrash, only one Israelite had the courage to take that step; thank G-d, in a community, it only takes one to lead us all forward toward our better selves.
The Pesach story urges us to settle for nothing less than the freedom to fulfill our potential to live meaningful lives. We are not created to either suffer through, or mindlessly enjoy, a day; we are created to explore our own creative potential to heal, to bless, and thus to know joy.
As Nakhshon ben Amminadav knew, it only takes one step.

Rabbi David Zaslow
Havurah Shir Hadash, Ashland

The Passover story tells of the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Throughout the Exodus story G-d repeatedly says that the liberation is not just for us, but for Egypt as well. In Exodus 7:5 G-d says that one purpose of the liberation is that the “Egyptians shall know that I am Hashem.” It is so beautiful to see how our story has been used as a template for liberation movements throughout the millennia.
When the Puritans sought religious freedom they relied on the Passover story to guide them. Later, the Mormons did they same as they fled prejudice. Finally, the Civil Rights Movement led by the Rev. King was founded on Moses’ plea to “let my people go.” G-d taught Moses that the Israelites would be truly free from oppression when Egypt was free of oppressiveness. Rev. King knew this principle – that blacks would be liberated from racism when whites were liberated from racist beliefs. Regarding Tibetan freedom, the Dalai Lama knows this as well concerning China. The Jewish message of Passover will continue to be used as the greatest story of freedom ever told. This is something for the Jewish people to celebrate.

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