Faces on Faith: Passover is as much about the present, future as the past
More Jews will celebrate Passover, beginning this year on Friday evening, April 19, than any other event in the religious calendar.
To best understand the Exodus narrative of our Festival of Freedom, we should view it as a war – a boxing match if you will – between gods. In one corner, we have the Egyptian god, Pharaoh. Pharaoh is like any pagan god that one worships by glorifying him with monuments, pyramids, sphinxes, and garrison cities. If slaves are necessary to build these structures, so be it. If beating those slaves keeps them working, that is fine too. And if over-population becomes an issue (see the First Chapter of Exodus), simply throw their baby boys into the Nile.
In the other corner, though, we have the one true God of the Hebrew Bible. God wants us to treat one another with respect and dignity and not to steal, cheat, or lie. God has particular concern for the powerlessness of society: the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the abused and the impoverished. The contrasting value systems represented by Pharaoh and God cannot coexist peacefully.
Imagine the scene from many a Western movie in which the sheriff says to the bad guy, “This town ain’t big enough for both of us,” and a showdown ensues. Well, Exodus is a showdown between God and Pharaoh.
Because God saved us from a hopeless existence of oppression and drudgery, we freely choose how we will earn a living, how we will spend our leisure, and how or if we will worship. In short, we believe we owe God a debt that we can never repay.
Yet, we try. We try by performing acts of kindness, caring, compromise, and compassion. Passover is more than a lesson in biblical history. During our Seder (the name for the Jewish Passover ritual) we smell, taste, feel, hear, and see the ardor of slavery and the joy of redemption. We act as if we were there. Because we know what it is like to be slaves we vow to do our utmost to free others in captivity. Because we know the joy of liberation, we pledge our talent to help liberate those enslaved today.
Passover is as much about our present and the future as the past. We prove its validity and our desire to serve the One true God, by working in whatever ways we can to foster justice and righteousness in our world.
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is with the Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.