Thoughts on Passover

The traditional Passover Seder Haggadah is not just for Jews—it will move spiritual progressives both secular and religious.

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Thoughts on Passover by Shari Motro

How does one leave home in peace?

Read metaphorically, the Exodus story—which Jews will retell during the upcoming Passover holiday—offers some clues to answering this most universal of questions.

Moses is born a Hebrew slave, but he is raised in Pharaoh’s palace. The setup is an exaggerated version of something familiar to many—to anyone who has wondered whether some cosmic accident landed her with the wrong family; anyone who has felt uncomfortable about the privileges she accrued by virtue of her birth; anyone who at some point experienced her parents as oppressive or narrow. Egypt, in Hebrew, means “narrow place.”

Moses’ initial reaction is the classic teenage rebellion—it’s rash, it’s risky, and it gets him into deep trouble. After witnessing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, Moses kills the Egyptian, buries him in the sand, and runs. He tries to disappear, to start over. In Midian, Moses marries a local and has a son who he names Gershom, Stranger (“For I was a stranger in a strange land,” he says).

But running away doesn’t work. At some point, those of us who leave unfinished business behind are called to return. For Moses, the call starts as a fire, a fire that burns but doesn’t consume. The burning bush is a fire that can be neither put out nor ignored.

Miniature ofrom Folio 8r of the Syriac Bible o...

Miniature ofrom Folio 8r of the Syriac Bible of Paris shows Moses before Pharaoh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moses goes home to face the conflict he ran from. His task is to negotiate, to mediate between the slaves and Pharaoh, both of whom symbolize aspects of every human soul. He will eventually leave again, but in a different way. Leaving home in peace requires acknowledging the naysaying voice within. Moses can’t leave Egypt for good until his ability to dream his own future overwhelms his fear, until he stands before Pharaoh and speaks his truth.

Yes, I killed the Egyptian.

Yes, I’ve turned my back on you. Look, I’m not you. I’m a different person.

Yes, I want to leave.

Will you let me go?

Pharaoh says no, as parents do. Sometimes parents say no even when they know that eventually they will relent, that everybody will be better off when they do. Nevertheless, some inexplicable force compels them to dig in their heels, to wield their power while they still have it.

Of course, Pharaoh is an extreme example. This is the point of archetypal myths: they use extremes to illustrate lessons that apply to us all. Pharaoh symbolizes attachment—the eminently human tendency to resist change. The plagues are the suffering that results from attachment. Each plague is a message from Pharaoh’s higher self, like a body that keeps getting sick until you listen to it.

For Moses, the message of the plagues may be this: Your blossoming into your most radiant self is not the true cause of suffering—Pharaoh’s suffering, your own suffering, anybody’s. The cause of suffering is resistance.

After the tenth and most devastating plague—the death of the firstborn—Pharaoh finally relents, and the Israelites leave “in haste.” They leave so quickly they can’t wait for their bread to rise; this is why we eat unleavened bread on Passover. What’s the message here?

When the force holding you back finally relents—go. GO. Don’t be scared; don’t feel guilty; don’t hang around saying long goodbyes. It’s time.

And if Pharaoh follows at your heels and drowns in the pursuit, don’t rejoice. According to one interpretation, this is what God said to the angels who sang as the Egyptian chariots were swallowed by the sea:

“Don’t rejoice, for they are my creatures too.”

And yet, the texts are also filled with the opposite, with joy.

Anyone who has succeeded in breaking free knows this tension well. Our glee is tinged with something else, with the sinking recognition that our naysayers’ grief is our grief. And… surviving requires not allowing ourselves to drown in their tears. Surviving is rejoicing despite their pain.

Somehow, on the other side of it all, there is a place where all is forgiven, where the narrowness of our birth canal—every trauma, every grief—becomes a source of love and gratitude, where zero-sum gives way to abundance, where Pharaoh and Moses are one.

I’ve seen only glimpses of this place. For me, this is the Promised Land.

– by Shari Motro

Shari Motro is a professor of law at the University of Richmond.

From the Sikkum Special Seder Messages for Passover

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Preceding posts:

Commemorating the escape from slavery

The Evolution Of Passover–Past To Present

Passover and Liberation Theology

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Additional reading:

  1. Deliverance and establishement of a theocracy
  2. Moving around looking for a homeland
  3. 14 Nisan a day to remember #5 The Day to celebrate
  4. The Song of The Lamb #7 Revelation 15
  5. Materialism, would be life, and aspirations
  6. Emotional pain and emotional deadness
  7. Meaning of life 
  8. Suffering
  9. Offer in our suffering
  10. God helper and deliverer
  11. God’s instruction about joy and suffering
  12. God’s promises to us in our suffering
  13. Suffering – through the apparent silence of God
  14. Suffering continues
  15. Suffering leading to joy
  16. Surprised by time in joys & sufferings
  17. 1 -15 Nisan
  18. Day of remembrance coming near
  19. Another way looking at a language #4 Ancient times
  20. Self inflicted misery #5 A prophet without a hedge around him
  21. The Advent of the saviour to Roman oppression
  22. Seven days of Passover
  23. On the first day for matzah
  24. A new exodus and offering of a Lamb
  25. Children ate the OT passover so why not NT bread and wine?
  26. High Holidays not only for Israel
  27. Around the feast of Unleavened Bread
  28. Festival of Freedom and persecutions
  29. 14-15 Nisan and Easter

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  • The Ancient Egyptians Worshiped Sheep (acquiescere9.wordpress.com) > The Ancient Egyptians Worshiped SheepUltimately, the Torah tells us, God commanded the Israelites to take a lamb or a kid for each household. They were to hold it for four days, from the tenth until the fourteenth of the first month, and slaughter it on the fourteenth. This was done in Egypt, despite the Egyptians’ religious beliefs. To this day Jews commemorate this event, calling the Sabbath preceding Passover Shabbat Hagadol
    +
    Torah Parshat Va’eira Exodus 6:2-9:3
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    Parshah Yitro Exodus 18:1-20:23
  • This Passover 2012, Remember (Again!) – It’s Not Your Religion That Matters, But Your Humanity (nobodysview.wordpress.com)
    A drop of wine is spilled with each recitation in memory of those who suffered in Egypt…not the Jews, but the Egyptians.I guess it’s a solemn reminder that when blood of any kind is spilled, we all lose a little something.  Then, it is important to remember that when there are those in bondage around the world, we ourselves (no matter our religion) are in some way in bondage.
    +
    It’s 5773, but the Message of Passover 2013 Is Still as Strong as Ever
    There were wanderings, new beginnings, divisions, and some heartache, but in the end, the destination was reached.
  • Preparing for Passover: Six Ways to Prepare (coffeeshoprabbi.com)
    Traditionally, Jews spend the month after Purim preparing for Passover. A lot of the holiday is in the preparation: the seder and the week that follows are the fruit of what we’ve put in the month before. I thought it might be helpful to look at the various ways we prepare for Passover.  If this is your first year observing Passover, don’t try to do everything at once. Choose one or two, and get all that you can out of them.
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    Passover is the festival of telling the story about “deliverance from Egypt.” If you are truly to experience deliverance, it helps to notice from what you need deliverance. Spend some time, between now and Passover, thinking about your own personal Egypt(s). The name for Egypt in Hebrew is “Mitzrayim,” which also means “a narrow place, a tight spot.” Questions to ask myself: Where in my life am I stuck? To what am I a slave? In what parts of my life am I Pharaoh? Do I depend on the slavery of others? What would freedom look like, in any of these cases? What would freedom cost? What is freedom worth?
  • Who Would You Rather Listen To? (spinningrabbi.com)
    One of those valuable lessons of this remembering, is this – G-d freed the Jews so that they were no longer physical slaves, yet they were still slaves.  Now they were their own Pharaoh and the slavery was of the self-imposed spiritual and emotional variety.  Once physically free, it was up to them to free themselves spiritually and emotionally.This lesson applies to all people who are blessed to live in freedom today.  This means that the only one who can free you now, is you.  It’s up to you to free yourself from your personal Egypt.
  • Christian Bale as Moses in ‘Exodus’: First Look (PHOTO) (news.moviefone.com)
    Empire has our first look at Ridley Scott’s “Exodus,” and judging by the impressive construction going on behind Christian Bale‘s Moses, this Biblical tale should be epic indeed.The film follows the story of Moses, abandoned as a baby and adopted by Egyptian royalty, only to hear the voice of God as he grows older and ultimately lead the Israelite slaves into the promised land. In this image, Moses witnesses the suffering of his people at the hands of the Pharaoh.
  • Pharaoh’s Overthrow (brakeman1.com)
    There were six hundred thousand men, besides women and children.  God caused a pillar of cloud to go before them in the daytime, to show them the way they were to take, and at night He led them by a pillar of fire.After the children of Israel had left Egypt, Pharaoh, though his kingdom had been nearly destroyed for his disobedience to God, was angry with himself for having let them go.  So he gathered together a great army, and pursued them to where they were encamped, in the wilderness by the Red Sea.
  • The Ancient Egyptians Worshiped Sheep (menashedovid1.wordpress.com)> The Ancient Egyptians Worshiped Sheep
    the Torah tells us, God commanded the Israelites to take a lamb or a kid for each household. They were to hold it for four days, from the tenth until the fourteenth of the first month, and slaughter it on the fourteenth. This was done in Egypt, despite the Egyptians’ religious beliefs. To this day Jews commemorate this event, calling the Sabbath preceding Passover Shabbat Hagadol…
  • Passover Primer (boiseweekly.com)
    If you’ve walked through a Treasure Valley Albertson’s recently, you’ve probably noticed a table piled high with unfamiliar items–boxes of Streit’s Potato Pancakes, giant packages of Yehuda Passover Matzos, bottles of Kedem Sparkling Concord Grape Juice and murky jars of Mrs. Adler’s Gefilte Fish filled with bobbing, grayish lumps.
  • Now Faith Is (faithrises.com)
    Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest He that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
  • Max, Hannah and some frogs: Kids’ books bring new friends (jta.org)
    Frolicking frogs and magical matzah balls are featured in this season’s crop of new Passover books for children that are sure to engage, inform, entertain and inspire.David Adler, author of the hugely popular early reader “Cam Jansen” series, offers “The Story of Passover.” Adler is highly acclaimed for his straightforward narrative style in non-fiction books, including dozens on Jewish holidays.David A. Adler in "The Story of Passover" provides little-known answers to some intriguing questions. (Courtesy Holiday House)He says he likes to appeal to readers of any Jewish background, whether from traditional, observant Jewish families or those who are interested in learning about Passover.
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5 responses to “Thoughts on Passover

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