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Posted in: Judaism

Published on Mar 28, 2018 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Phyllis Chesler

My Pesach Greeting


Dearest Family of Friends:

Once again, we leave Egypt in haste. Once again, we are about to be redeemed from slavery-yes, from real slavery, not from the human condition itself or from bondage to bad habits.

Real slavery still exists. Read about the ongoing ethnic Arab Muslim enslavement of black Africans in Charles Jacob's excellent article about slavery in Sudan, Yemen, and Mauritania.

Real slavery still exists. The trafficking of human beings, including children, especially children, as sex slaves and as chattel property has grown and is global. Reproductive trafficking is also on the rise; Americans are trying to legalize it, state by state.

Passover teaches us that freedom is a miracle, but that with God's help this miracle is possible no matter what one's earthly, historical circumstances might be. Whether a Jew has just survived the ancient destruction of Jerusalem or a European or Arab pogrom, is imprisoned in an Iranian jail or in a Nazi concentration camp, she is still commanded to celebrate her freedom from slavery.

Passover teaches us that there are many kinds of slavery and that earthly jails do not have the power to imprison our Jewish souls. Passover also teaches us that obtaining one's freedom is both immanent and transcendent, a part of the human historical process and yet also outside it. The ongoing dialectic between slavery and liberation is, like the world, a work in progress. Once we achieve one level of freedom, it becomes the basis from which to struggle for the next level. (Just as studying one parsha frees us from what we’ve already learned so that we can see another whole parsha when next we study).

Is a story this monumental, a message this universal, meant for Jews of one gender only? Or even for Jews only? Can only religiously learned Jewish men officiate at a seder--or can any Jew, male or female, learned or not, also do so? Indeed, in what sense is Passover a holiday of women and slaves, an opportunity to tell the obvious and yet also hidden or forgotten story of women’s profound role in Liberation?

Is freedom a Jewish religious value meant for all people, all faiths? If so, should Jews make it a point to invite non-Jews to seders? But, how much will be lost in translation? Is it really possible to transmit what we have learned about slavery and freedom to children, strangers, and slaves, to those who dwell within our midst? This is precisely what we are commanded to do.

Leaving Egypt is hard to do. We must continue the journey every year--and by the long route, no less. The short route will not do; the vegetation must change; new people must be born and brought into our story. But it takes time for slaves to become free enough to enter the Promised Land; the first generation may have to die out first.

I have learned some divine and eternal truths from studying a little Torah. For example, slavery shortens the human spirit and makes risktaking and collective resistance difficult, perhaps impossible.

It is precisely because the Israelites suffer from impatience and shortened vision that Moses seems dangerous to them. They fear and resent him. After Moses kills the taskmaster—and only a Prince of Egypt can do so with impunity— the fearful, resentful Jews, not the Egyptians or the taskmaster's compatriots, are the ones who want to turn him in. This is why Moses flees Egypt.

Being a liberator is dangeous work; one does not choose this honor/burden but is chosen. Understandably, Moses resists it, but he comes to accept God's will.

Jews remain at risk in history as God’s “chosen” people. This blessing arouses a murderous envy. We have all seen the dangerous and heartbreaking rise in anti-Semitism in the 21st century. But, in Moses’ merit, we must and we will continue to bear this incredible blessing.

Happy upcoming 70th birthday to the state of Israel.

Chag Pesach Sameach to us all.

Phyllis


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