Let My People Know

"Times of crises give us opportunities for a new outlook"

“Passover is the most ancient Jewish festival, and also the most beloved.

Yet beyond the splendor of its antiquity and our own childhood memories, Passover’s message is both universal and contemporary:

Each of us yearns for the move from enslavement to exile.

The heartfelt desire for deliverance — redemption from slavery — is not confined to those in captivity.

One’s personal ‘Egypt’ may be literal, physical bondage.

But others may experience their own ‘Egypt’ as financial ruin, the exile of one’s soul or the relentless heartache within one’s own family.

The defining feature of bondage is not a one-time trauma; it lies in its span, sometimes a whole course of life.

Whether one’s bondage is obvious to all or known only to the sufferer, it is a reality from which the sufferer cannot pull free.

And because the sufferer does not have the tools or the abilities to liberate himself, everyone – both the complete heretic and the sage – yearns, with or without prayer, for a miracle.

Even the attempt to escape is not a full answer; the straits may be too high, and possibly also too deep.

The Exodus from Egypt is miraculous.

A pit with a ladder in it is a pit, but there is a clear way out of it.

Egypt is a dead-end labyrinth, an abyss with no staircase.

Had ‘Egypt’ been a solvable problem, on either the individual or the national level, surely many would have found a way to leave.

The festival of the Exodus from Egypt therefore carries an important and significant message for every human being – namely, that there is a precedent for the miracle of deliverance, that there even is a memory of such an event.

And thus the story of the Exodus is imprinted in each of us.

Even those of weak faith can see the Exodus as the symbol of liberation from a difficult and bitter exile.

Unfortunately, there is no formula for reaching the Exodus, neither a five-year plan nor a twelve-step program.

But there is one element that can be identified:

What seems to be the peak of enslavement is, in fact, the beginning of redemption.

Just before the miracle of the Exodus the Torah tells us (Exodus 1:14) ‘and they [the Egyptians] made their [the Israelites’] lives bitter.’

Why so?

Enslavement, in all its forms, is painful, limiting and confining; but because it is not a one-time event, we adapt.

It is not that we like our troubles; it is that we are used to them.

We learn to co-exist, to lead a life in which man and his suffering, external or internal, live side by side.

There is pain, there is distress, but there is also resignation, even if unwilling, to the existing situation.

A reality of this kind is in itself a barrier to liberation.

A person who has been living for a long time behind walls may be unable to step out even when the gate opens.

And such a person will surely not have the courage to make an illogical jump in order to escape his present situation.

However, when people reach a deeper understanding of their distress, when they reach the level of ‘and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried’ (Ibid, 2:23), this in itself is the beginning of the possibility of being redeemed.

Bitterness emerges not only out of the pain, but also from the shattering of the compliance with the state of bondage.

That bitter suffering is not the solution; it is the moment of realization, a more profound understanding of our travail.

Out of this moment comes the opening for a new paradigm, a new reality.

Times of crises, such as our own times, are not only periods of human and social tragedies.

They also give us opportunities for a new outlook and a clearer examination of the past and of the present.

A new perception of reality — one that does not focus on particular details but also sees the broad social, economic and human situation — is in itself the beginning of redemption.

One must want to be redeemed, in order to be redeemed.

Before we eat the matzah (which is both a symbol of redemption and ‘the bread of affliction’) we remove the leaven, bi’ur chametz.

Leaven is bread which is very edible, possibly tastier than matzah, which symbolizes all the more bearable aspects of bondage.

We are called upon to burn, even if only symbolically, the leaven that has accumulated in the past year, perhaps also in the course of a whole generation, so that we can begin to create an atmosphere of redemption.

On the Seder night we gather for a festive meal, and the festival table in every Jewish home – even if it is neither glamorous nor bountiful – is a reminder of a most important fact: that the Israelites were redeemed not only in the past, and that in the future, too, there is the “Redeemer of Israel.”

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay “We May be in Bondage; We Can be Redeemed” by R
abbi Adin Steinsaltz