The Five Aspects of Passover
I recently read an interesting article written by Rabbi Benjamin Blech, one of today's truly outstanding modern Jewish thinkers, a professor for Talmud studies at Yeshiva University. Rabbi Blech names five major aspects to the survivability of the Jewish people which were created during the saga of the Exodus from Egypt.
Memory The first aspect is Memory. History prevents us from living in a cosmic vacuum. Knowing who we are and from whence we came enables us to recognize ourselves as a nation and separate religious group. As ancient Hebrews this gave us a sense of our destiny with a mission to improve the world. (hence the concept of repairing the world). This is why remembering the Exodus from Egypt is a commandment mentioned numerous times in the bible. This remembrance has allowed us to fashion ourselves as a nation of freedom lovers and to introduce this concept to an oppressive world.
Optimism The second aspect is Optimism. This powerful psychological state of mind brings with it the innate belief that all oppressive power in the world, all tyranny, all powerful evil empires will be defeated and toppled especially at the times when tyranny is in complete control. As Hebrew slaves with no hope for deliverance from our suffering, Moses actually had quite a difficult time bringing us to this state of mind to allow us to see the coming redemption.
Faith The third aspect is Faith. When the Jewish nation was born out of the event of Exodus the concept of G-D's direct role in human life was created with it. Both in the bible as well as in later writings (such as the writings of the Rambam, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers) a common description of G-D is not an adjective but, in fact, a verb. "I am your G-D who took you out of Egypt", meaning there is direct divine intervention in our lives. G-D is not aloof but rather compassionate and open for our prayers and wishes.
Although G-D is all powerful, our relationship with him is direct and personal. He is the king but he is also our father (remember "Avinu Malkenu" Our Father our King from our High Holy Days liturgy) He acts when things need to get done for the benefit of humans, even if sometimes we don't see it that way. Like all other events in human life, the story of the Hebrews in Egypt is part of the divine plan with reasons not always clear to us.
Family Unit The fourth aspect of the Passover story according to Rabbi Blech is the Family Unit. In order to strengthen and insure the perpetual existence of the Jewish people as a separate and distinguished entity the family unit becomes vital. As we see in our own modern life the family unit ensures the functionality of our society.
In fact most of the seder's rituals are acts to stimulate questions from our children as well a time for a history lesson of who we are and what we are celebrating. This strong family direction enables us to overcome outside negative influences while instilling in our children an inner guide for decency, the love of freedom and Judaism.
Responsibility for Each Other Rabbi Blech mentions the Responsibility for Each Other as the last important aspect of the Exodus story. Our forefathers' long and intense suffering under the yoke of the Egyptians was not without purpose. It created in our "Jewish DNA" the ingrained sense of responsibility not only to repair G-D's world in general but for the betterment of our fellow human beings in particular. It is who we Jewish people are and what we do.
Remembering our ancestors' centuries of suffering , slavery and the denial of human rights obligates us to do our best to help others out of their own personal bondage, whatever that might be. Our ancestors' bondage qualifies and obligates us to be the leaders of the struggle against all which is wrong, to be the world's repairing crew.
May We All Remember In a few weeks, when we gather around the Passover seder table may we all remember how profound and fundamental the recitation of the story of Exodus is to our existence as Jewish people, as a nation, as human beings.