The Festival of Transition
It’s interesting that Passover, which I think of as “the Festival of Transition,” lasts an entire week. There are two seders, and then what? How about this: We’re given a concentrated week in which to consider and focus on the possibilities and obligations of freedom. The Midrash claims that a great many Israelites chose to remain in Egypt at the time of the Exodus. How do we understand the reluctance to leave Egypt? Why would it be preferable to remain in a state of predictable servitude rather than venture into the unknown? This is something to think about. Can we relate to that decision?
Passover is a family-centered holiday: Yes, there is a strong synagogue component, but the sine qua non of the festival is the home-centered reading of the Haggadah, in which there is a guided interchange between children and adults and the communal retelling of our transition from hundreds of thousands of Israelites enslaved in Egypt to a united Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. We re-tell the story every year, and it bears repeating.
At Sinai, we got our “marching orders,” the Ten Commandments, and the rest is history, our history. Moses had his hands full with the crowd he led through the wilderness, hundreds of thousands who had a hard time shaking their Egyptian captivity behaviors. Only a younger generation, which had not experienced the Egyptian slavery, was able to envision and embrace freedom.
Thousands of years later, we’re a free People, but are we still, in some ways, slaves?
Every year, we sit together to review, consider, and talk about that critical transition in which we became a People. At the seders, several generations of family and friends join to retell the Exodus story. The Haggadah asks us to consider ourselves as physically experiencing the miraculous Mt. Sinai thunder-and-lightening moment (one Jewish dating organization is named “Saw You at Sinai!”).
The Jewish journey that began at Sinai connects us, in spite of our differences, and reflection on that fact leads us to understand we’re meant to be bound together.
It took 40 years of wandering in the desert until the slave generation perished and a new generation entered Israel together as the free Jewish People. The Haggadah can be the essential jumping-off point that provokes evaluation of how we spend our freedom. Do we connect to our People and the Torah? What causes do we support? Is our identity defined by our job? Do we put our family—our own family and our Jewish People family—first? Are we models of decency and discretion, or do we tend to conform to the crowd? Are we proud Jews?
That transition from slavery to freedom is a transition with which we struggle daily, so we can use the week of Passover as the time of introspection. To what am I enslaved? What would my life be like if I could leave that enslavement? Can I handle a life in which I am not guided by conventions of contemporary society and desire to “fit in”? Am I willing to choose my own path?
I suggest that these are good topics for discussion during the seder meal and introspection during the week of Passover.
My family and I wish all of you a liberating Passover experience!
Chana Shapiro is a contributing writer to the Atlanta Jewish Times.