Faces on Faith: The meaning of Passover
More Jews will celebrate Passover, beginning on April 8 this year, than any other religious occasion during the year. Yet far too many do not understand the reasoning behind the rituals.
To understand the Passover narrative in Exodus, we must view it as a war – a boxing match if you will – between gods. In one corner, we have the Egyptian god, Pharaoh. One worships Pharaoh, like any pagan god, by glorifying him with monuments, pyramids, sphinxes and garrison cities. If slaves are needed to build these structures, so be it. If it is necessary to beat those slaves in order to keep them working, or even kill some occasionally to send a message, that is fine too. And if overpopulation 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’s highest goal is that we create a just, caring and compassionate society. 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 outsider, 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 it is our story, our God wins by redeeming us from slavery and bringing us to Mount Sinai, where God renews and expands with an entire people, the sacred covenant God once made with just Abraham and his family.
In slavery our lives were hopeless. We lived in drudgery and oppression. Life had neither meaning nor purpose. Suddenly, God delivered us. Because of that, 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 owe God a debt that we can never repay.
Yet, we try. We try by performing acts of kindness, caring and compassion. Passover is not just about our past. It is also about the future we wish to shape, a future marked by justice and righteousness for all humanity.
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is with the Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.