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Posted in: Judaism, World Events

Published on Mar 24, 2021 by Phyllis Chesler

Published by The Jewish Voice

A Pesach Greeting 2021

Year after year, we are always surprised/not at all surprised to find ourselves back in Egypt, slaves again. Why can’t we leave Egypt? Remember, we are the people who cried out to return, even after all of God’s plagues and the mighty and miraculous parting of the Sea. We are the people who longed to return to Egypt. We missed the foods, the smells, that which was known, as opposed to the wandering unknown. Finally, despite everything, 41 days without our liberator was too much for us to bear and we organized an orgy, worshipped an idol, a golden god, an Egyptian-like calf.

Are we being punished—or being given another chance to return to Egypt and this time, to get it right, really give up Egypt—obeying, serving, other human beings, as opposed to serving God? Have we forgotten that we are meant to proceed ever onward, always “east of Eden,” even as we journey west to the Promised Land?

As we make our way through the centuries, as we once did through the desert, do we trust in God to see us through? Do we create a mishkan, a place where God can come to dwell among us? Can we do so alone, or even in a tight place, as narrow as a birth canal, as punishing as a prison cell?

One of my most meaningful and amazing seders took place in a house of bondage, in a woman’s prison. The Jewish prisoners genuinely felt free-er behind bars than they’d been before: addicted, battered, trafficked into sex slavery. It reminded me once again that a Jew can celebrate our chagim anywhere: in the gulag, in a camp, even when we are alone.

This past plague year has kept so many of us isolated. We are without a First or Second Temple—and the Third Temple has not yet been built—except in our synagogues, homes, and hearts, where we must constantly improvise even as we strive to keep “the eternal stone boundaries erected by our ancestors.” (Chapter 22, Mishlei, Pasuk 28, courtesy of Rabbi Ben Skydell, of Orach Chayim). Last week he taught us that this goes beyond the actual borders of stone erected by our forebears. Rashi understood it to mean that we must not turn away from the customs of our ancestors—which also includes charity to the poor.

And so: We are commanded to re-tell The Story at a seder table, no matter what.

Last year we had a zoom seder. Was it halachic? That’s a kasha. On the one hand, we are supposed to be with family and friends, and with “all those who may need to join us.” On the other hand, unvaccinated, with a dangerous plague roaring through our cities, we could not do so in person. Some of us left our laptops on but still would not click on the zoom link. Others of us didn’t give this a second thought. We clicked and were joined together at least digitally, in two dimensions.

In general, especially this past year, many women have prayed at home, alone. We have invited God into our lives and dwellings by braiding elaborate challah breads for the Sabbath—and sharing photographs of them with others. We’ve lit candles and gathered flowers to grace the snowy white Sabbath tablecloth—and shared photographs of them on social media. But mainly, as for myself and for all those in my classes, we’ve studied Torah. This has kept us together, structured our time, focused our attention on that which is meaningful, even as chaos and danger surrounded us.

Always, God is with us when we study.

Chag Pesach Sameach to my family, friends, colleagues, but especially to my Torah chevre and to our rabbi.

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