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Reprinted with permission from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook (Jason Aronson).
The Haggadah instructs that each of us (“In every generation . . .”) is actually supposed to feel as though we had been slaves and made the transition to a new status. How can we do this–take ancient history and make it into my story and your story?
We who live in an open, democratic society tend to think of ourselves as free. But are we really, just because we are not physically bound to an overlord? What do being enslaved and unencumbered by oppression really mean? And are they mutually exclusive?
In Hebrew, Egypt is called Mitzrayim. According to the text on Jewish mysticism, the Zohar, the name is derived from m’tzarim, meaning “narrow straits” (mi, “from,” tzar, “narrow” or “tight”). When God took us out of Mitzrayim, He extricated us from the place of constricted opportunities, tight control, and narrow-mindedness, where movement was severely limited.
Each of us lives in his or her own mitzrayim, the external or physical narrow straits of financial or health constraints or, perhaps, personal tragedy; universally, the psychological burdens to which we subject ourselves. Like the duality in virtually all of Pesach’s symbols, they work in two ways: they turn us into both slaves and oppressors, of ourselves and others. Passover leads us to question the values and attitudes we hold and which hold us to those roles.
(Do we pursue, even worship, things like money and status for their own sake, rather than for how they can make our lives and the lives of those around us better? Do our own insecurities or overconfidence inhibit us from fully participating in life rather than getting the most out of relationships? Do our stereotyping, prejudice, or exploitation oppress other people by robbing them of their dignity rather than affording them the same opportunities we want for ourselves?)
As we get rid of leaven and replace it with matzah, we are supposed to confront whatever it is that we normally allow to persist in our lives but which should perhaps, like the leaven, be eliminated, and that which we suppress which should, like the back-to-basics unleavened bread, be admitted. (Do you work to live or live to work? Do you play for enjoyment or to avoid having to think? Are you unhappy in a situation but so entrenched in it that you have come to accept it as the norm–as acceptable? Does an addiction to food, alcohol, drugs, a pattern of behavior, or another person interfere with leading the life you really want for yourself? Do you allow others to take advantage of your time and resources?)
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