Each Passover, Jews retell the story of the exodus from Egypt. This is a story of a people who emerged from slavery to freedom and from oppression to liberty. The Passover story gives us pause to reflect upon a spiritual adventure that began with Moses and ended in the promised land of Israel. It fabricates the basis of contemporary Judaism and Christianity. The Passover story describes the Jews’ seemingly insurmountable victory over a vastly superior enemy, a tale of wandering in the wilderness and of redemption with God’s Ten Commandments. Those Ten Commandments lie at the heart of contemporary Judeo-Christian beliefs. They are the groundwork of our morality and the foundation of desired ethical behavior. And, when the Jews wandered for forty years in the wilderness – when they became idolaters and lost their moral compass, it was the Ten Commandments that brought them back, figuratively and literally.
Like the victory of the Hebrew Maccabi, the exodus from Egypt seemed impossible. Yet, somehow the Jews survived. In every generation, the enemies of the Hebrew nation have attempted to annihilate them. Time after time, the Jews have been defeated, evicted and enslaved. Yet, each time, they manage to survive as a people. Each time, they return to Israel from the Diaspora. The rallying cry at each Passover Seder is, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Every Jew is bound to retell the Passover story each year as though it was happening to them. And the physical focus for this goal is always the land of Israel. Despite the fact that Jews are less than 2% of the global religious community, they somehow manage to survive and maintain their hold upon this tiny fragment of land. Today, surrounded by enemies, the Hebrew nation is in the same predicament. How do they survive? How does their spirit continue through pogroms and genocide? And, what is the true meaning of Passover?
Persecution is intensely malevolent and pervasive. Humans are particularly wicked with each other. Three thousand years ago, Moses pleaded with Pharaoh to free his people from persecution and slavery. The ten plagues that followed forced him to release the Jews. Yet even after the worst plague of all, the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt, Pharaoh pursued the Jews into the Red Sea, where his soldiers were swept away. Evil can be just as powerful a motivator as love is. During the Spanish Inquisition, anyone suspected of being a Jew was imprisoned, tortured and put to death. Nazi Germany systematically annihilated millions of Jews. What purpose is served by inflicting pain and suffering upon innocent people? What promotes such evil hatred? Why is animosity aimed at the Jewish people? And, how do the Jews manage to survive repeated attempts to destroy them?
Like Easter, Passover occurs each year in the springtime. The concept of renaissance is ubiquitous. From sacrificial lambs to the presence of an egg on the Seder plate, the symbolism of devotion and rebirth is palpable. While the overriding message of Passover is freedom, gratitude and spiritual devotion, the concept of renewal allows each of us to observe the holiday by perform acts of kindness. From generation to generation, Jews retell the Passover story and revel in the miracles that led to their redemption as a people. The Passover Seder requires that each Jew place himself or herself in the position of being a slave in Egypt. Every Jew must experience the plagues and walk through the wilderness. The Seder brims with imagery and metaphors. But what does this mean for us today? Can we identify with our three thousand year old ancestors?
Good and evil exist in the world. We don’t need to look very far to see it or feel it. The exodus of the Jews from Egypt is an example for us to follow forever. Yet, humanity continues to enslave, maltreat and murder the innocent. One might have guessed that the Holocaust would put such immorality to an end. Surely humankind should be repelled by the vast horror and the murder of millions of innocent people. Yet, holocausts continue unabated. Since the Nazi Holocaust, we have experienced holocausts in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Anti-Semitism is again growing throughout the world. Why don’t we learn? When will it end? Why do the Jewish people play a significant historical role as victims in genocides? And, what can be done to stop it? What can any of us do to reduce religious persecution?
Prejudice, bigotry and racism create an environment in which persecution thrives. This Easter and Passover, each of us can vow to promote goodwill and acceptance. The foundation of freedom lies in our value for liberty and unity in the face of hatred and intolerance. Instead of waiting for a miracle, let us create our own. Let each of us retell the story of the Passover as though we were personally a part of it. Moreover, as we retell the Passover story and celebrate Easter, we can place ourselves in the minds of current victims of genocide, slavery and intolerance. We have the power to defy fanaticism. We have the courage to fight for freedom. This is the meaning of Passover. We can make our own miracles by fighting to free the oppressed.
Humans are not God. But we have the power of choice. We can use it to enslave or to liberate. We can persecute or accept others. This Easter and Passover, let us vow to use our power of choice to fight for mercy, justice and liberty. If the meaning of Passover is spiritual redemption and rebirth, then let us be reborn to stop prejudice. Let us promote tolerance and encourage everyone to value the differences among us. In this way, the spirit of Passover will live on through our progeny. As we enjoy Passover and Easter this spring with our families, let us pause for a moment to ask what each of us can do to eradicate the evil that surrounds us. The rebirth of this spirit is the true meaning of Passover.
Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, “Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story”