Pesach 5782 On The Seder As A Living Experience

Pesach 5782 On The Seder As A Living Experience

On seder night, we embark on a holy commemorative journey through the Haggadah as we move spiritually and temporally from degradation to praise. We do not merely recount by rote our journey out of Mitzrayim, out of the narrowness to a wide expanse, but we engage in holy reenactment of the experience.

In Mishnah Pesachim 10:5, it is taught that in every generation, every single one of us is obligated to see ourselves as though we, too, went out of Egypt. We aren’t only recounting the origin story of our ancestors, passed down generation after generation. We are part of the holy collectivity. We are active participants, not passive observers.

The Telling that we ritually experience on Pesach is not only about remembering our people’s foundational story. Indeed, this story is so central that we are asked to recall it every day of our lives. Jewish liturgy makes mention of it in the morning and the evening. Each holiday is referred to as a Zecher—a remembrance—of the exodus. Those who wrap tefillin bind these sacred words to their bodies. It is so central that we access it using as many sensory vehicles as are available to us.

Truly, Pesach is such a momentous event in spiritual terms that it is our duty to be actively shaping this experience for ourselves in every generation.

We move from the narrow place to one of wide expanse, a place devoid of G-d consciousness to one suffused with it. We move from a sense of degradation to praise, of owning our own narrative, no longer allowing others to define or shape it for us. We think about what represents mitzrayim in our own lives. What are those things that we cannot seem to free ourselves from? What would it mean for us to find a sense of liberation and possibility after years, perhaps, of feeling weighted down by story, by fear, by expectation that is far greater than we are as individuals yet impacts us so intimately?

In every generation, we are each obligated to perceive ourselves as if we, too, left Egypt. The promises G-d makes to our ancestors, which we recount on seder night apply to us as much as they did to those who came before. Our physical and social locations as a people have undergone tremendously radical shifts over the generations and continue to do so in our own day.

Pesach has carried our people through trials and tribulations, through times of great joy and ecstasy. Our calendar, with its emphasis on the spiral of time, encourages us to return, again and again, to the essential theological truth. We, too, were there, a part of the story. We participated in the awesomeness that was the exodus and as such, we are enjoined to bring its power into our lives. We do so in an embodied way so that it does not become a rote, stultified experience. Ideally, we bring this power with us into how we show up in the world around us.

We know that this leave taking is multifaceted, as relevant to us on the personal level as it is on the collective. So how do we actualize this beautiful idea from the Mishnah on a personal level? Maybe we choose one thing this Pesach we yearn to break free from. Maybe we set modest goals for ourselves. My anxiety might not vanish overnight, perhaps, or perhaps this one gnarly habit I have will remain with me. Yet, I can set an intention to embody the liberative possibility of choosing to live or act or show up in a unique way.

I can spiritually imagine and embody a future rich with the possibility of reemergence and rebirth by recalling that I, too, left Egypt, and so did we all. Our sederim are not meant to be rote, tired exercises in reciting lines that may not have meaning for us. They are, instead, about embodying the theological radicalism of our tradition. We move from degradation to praise, from narrowness to expanse in every generation, in large ways and in small ways. May it be so.

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.