Pesach 5779

One of the central obligations of Pesach, as we read in the Haggadah is that we each, individually, have the obligation to see ourselves as though we ourselves went out of Egypt. The story of the Jewish people’s liberation, then, becomes a collective, national retelling beyond time, space and generation. Not only did our ancestors come out of Egypt—Mitzrayim, but so, too, do we every year. Indeed, our rabbis and sages placed such importance on the Jewish people’s remembrance of Yetziat Mitzrayim—the Exodus from Egypt—that it is mentioned twice daily in traditional liturgy, on every Shabbat and holiday during the Kiddush blessing sanctifying holy time, and, in the most traditional circles, it is mentioned daily as part of what are known as the Six Remembrances—six things that Jews are commanded to recall every day of their lives.

Our going forth out of Egypt is also spiritually understood as a practice of seeking to liberate ourselves from narrow places that constrain us. Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word meaning Egypt is derived from the Hebrew root for narrowness. Seeing ourselves as though we, too, went out of Egypt thus is understood by Chasidic and other mystically-inclined commentators as inviting us on a journey to free ourselves from those narrow places in our lives that constrain our sense of self-worth or make us feel limited, blocked, or otherwise unable to move forward. Put another way, the stuckness that so many of us wrestle with is seen spiritually by many of our sages as a narrow place that we are invited and encouraged to see ourselves emerging from. Every year, this obligation remains because our tradition understands and knows that liberating the self from that which makes us feel stuck is not a one-time thing but an ongoing, often painful and slow-going process.

The Piaseczna rebbe, who is most commonly referred to as the Aish Kodesh—Holy Fire and was the rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto wrote beautifully about this in his book, Derech HaMelech, which is a series of sermons or drashot. He invites us to think about the obligation we each have to see ourselves as though we, too, went out of Egypt first as a call to examine ourselves as who we truly and authentically are, and once we understand deeply what it is we are wanting from life and what it is about ourselves that make us shine, then, we are able to truly fulfill this most important of Pesach commandments.
Those of us who are engaged daily in working towards justice often experience a sense of diminishment or burnout, as though the change we so long for will never be realized. Sometimes, we might feel like the work isn’t bearing fruit and as the world around us feels increasingly harder to live in, it is easy for despair to become all-consuming and unrelenting. Even amidst the narrowness, Pesach offers an opportunity to step back and recharge, to reexamine anew who we are and why it is that we care so deeply about our work. What is it deep within our own souls and selves that calls us to this work, even and especially when the road is filled with boulders and it feels like liberation is further away than it has ever been?
As we conclude Pesach and celebrate the splitting of the Yam-Suf—the sea of reeds, which enabled our ancestors to cross on dry land towards liberation, may we seek to embody the liberatory posture we wish for the world.

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