I begin thinking about Passover as Purim approaches. Perhaps my attention should be on hamentashen and groggers, but quite frankly: it’s not. I can’t help it. I find myself drifting past Esther and the gang, prepping for the crossing of the sea.
I love Passover on a hundred different levels. The anticipation kicks in as Liza and I review who’s likely to show up. This is so I know how many chairs to rent, who’s a vegan, how many hagadot to have on hand, etc. Simple math and long experience then demand that I add 5 more spots at the table because there’s always unexpected guests and relatives emerging from the periphery.
It will not surprise you that after we arrive at a round number of seder participants, I begin to review recipes for the Seder. There are the standard “of course, absolutely” foods: Matzah ball soup, my mother’s brisket, a funky haroset made with dates and pistachios, matzah apple kugel… and so forth. But there are always new recipes to try out. Then there’s the wine selections, dessert options, and on and on.
But of course, there’s more to Passover than the food though this statement sounds vaguely heretical. In fact, Passover is all about a story: our story. The Exodus narrative appears all over the place in Jewish life. We mention it every Shabbat, in every blessing after a meal, in the daily traditional liturgy.In short: we can’t stop talking about it.
Because Passover is the story of our redemption. It is about our struggle to escape the clutches of slavery and tyranny. It is all about a moment in sacred history that set on our unique path to freedom and nationhood. As Michael Walzer writes in his Exodus and Revolution,
“The strength of Exodus history lies in its end, the divine promise. It is also true, of course, that the significance and value of the end are given by the beginning. Canaan is a promised land because Egypt is a house of bondage… The Exodus is not a lucky escape from misfortune. Rather, the misfortune has a moral character… God’s promise generates a sense of possibility: the world is not all Egypt. Without that sense of possibility, oppression would be experienced as an inescapable condition, a matter of personal or collective bad luck, a stroke of fate.”
The very notion that God intends for us, and for all humanity, to be free is a radical concept. Further, the idea that there is more than just what is, inspired and inspires us and the history of Western civilization.
Progress means moving forward, and we are the shock troops of that principle. Ever since the birth of this story,“…any move toward Egypt is a “going back” in moral time and space.”
The news is filled with story after story that has the potential to cause some serious depression and/or utter hopelessness. Terrorism in Europe, the socio-economic disparity between rich and poor in America, the collapse of the two-state solution in Israel, or the skewed, reactionary candidacies of two people running for president of the USA… There’s a lot, as Marvin Gaye once sang, to “Make me wanna holler, the way they do my life/make me wanna holler, throw up both my hands.”
We ae forbidden to despair. Passover reminds us that our tradition calls upon us to adopt God’s possibility. It’s what we’ve done so well, over and over again in our history. From the destruction of the Temple in 70 to the expulsion from England in 1290 to the Inquisition in 1492 to the pogroms of the 19th-20th centuries to the Holocaust to the war of liberation in 1948, we’ve reached for God’s possibility.
Passover celebrates the notion that no one deserves Egypt. Oppression is the antithesis of God. There is a better place, a world better than this one, a promised land. We can make it so, if we’re willing to take the walk through the wilderness.
So yes, go through the recipes. Rent your chairs. Get an accommodator (this is a truly liberating experience!). But above all, review the story and get ready for the Exodus!