Once again, this year’s Passover celebration of freedom reminded me how important this holiday is to the survival of the Jewish people for over 2000 years, despite many travails. The Torah commands the Jewish people to tell the story of their liberation from slavery to freedom every year. While Jewish practice has varied over time, the core insistence on teaching children the value of freedom and remembering that we were once slaves is a reminder that freedom is precious and it takes work as a community both to obtain and to retain our freedom.
As usual, we gathered for a large seder in our home, with friends and family from the 3 Abrahamic religions, Jewish, Christian & Muslim, to re-tell the story. While the seder, (literally meaning “order”) prescribes 14 set elements, from the 1st of 4 blessings over glasses of wine, to the conclusion hours later, the survival of the Jewish people has also allowed families to incorporate their own traditions into their seders.
In our home, when we introduce ourselves to each other as we gather at the table, we share with each other our thoughts about both the freedom we are currently appreciating as well as the freedom we are still seeking, because the truth is that all of us enjoy some freedom, but none of us enjoy complete freedom. In doing so, we build community by getting to know each other a little better. In addition, this practice causes each of us to step back from our busy lives to focus on freedom obtained, and freedom sought.
This year, our seder gathering included 23 people, ranging from a Turkish Muslim baby not quite one year old, to an 87 year old Moroccan Jew who described his wandering from nation to nation, including France, Israel and Norway, eventually arriving in the United States, and always seeking freedom. Some shared very personal freedoms sought & obtained. Others shared global concerns for oppressed people who struggle mightily to obtain freedom in dire circumstances. All sentiments were valued because in sharing freedoms sought and freedoms obtained, we were continuing a tradition that builds and strengthens a community that cherishes freedom and understands how fragile it is.
Each year, as Jews the world over celebrate their Exodus from enslavement in Egypt thousands of years ago, I wonder whether others who have suffered from slavery could benefit from such a practice. This is one reason why we always invite non-Jews to our seder, in order to broaden the celebration of freedom.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated so eloquently,
Liberation is costly. Even after the Lord had delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they had to travel through the desert. They had to bear the responsibilities and difficulties of freedom. There was starvation and thirst and they kept complaining. Many of them preferred the days of bondage.
We must remember that liberation is costly. It needs unity. We must hold hands and refuse to be divided. We must be ready. Some of us will not see the day of our liberation physically. But those people will have contributed to the struggle. Let us be united, let us be filled with hope. Let us be those who respect one another.
Some struggle for freedom alone, but Passover reminds us that struggling for freedom together builds community and expands freedom for many.