Has one single moment ever reshaped or redirected the path of your life? Have you ever felt your heart shift from resignation to resistance, from despair to hope? There is such a turning point in the Exodus story.
Everything changes when the Israelites, no longer able to bear the burden of Pharaoh’s cruel treatment, cry out to God. The literary structure is beautiful. The Israelites cry out (va-nitz’ak) and in turn God hears their voice (va-yishma Adonai et Koleinu). “He saw our persecution, our toil, and our oppression” (Deuteronomy 26:7). The Chassidic Rebbe of Gur says: The sigh, the groan, and the crying out of the children of Israel from the slavery were the beginning of redemption. As long as they did not cry out against their own exile they were neither worthy nor ready for redemption. (A Different Night, p.89)
V’nitz’ak – so they cried out against their enslavement instead of allowing it to immobilize them. Their courage was aroused by a sense of injustice and a desire to be free. In this moment, the Israelites moved from resignation to resistance.
We, too, may find ourselves in our own Egypt – Mitzrayim, caught in a personal exile. We look to the Psalms for comfort. During the festivals we recite Hallel, Psalms 113-118, in praise and thanksgiving. One verse, found in Psalm 118:5, can help us find redemption and hope:
Min ha-mei-tzar ka-ra-ti YA; a-na-ni b’mer-chav YA
*YA is one of many names for God.
Having checked many sources, I discovered a range of translations for this verse. The following in my interpretive translation:
“Out of my Egypt – my place of constriction, with what felt like my very last breath, I cried out, ‘YA!’ YA responded by breathing into me, restoring spaciousness to my bodily, emotional and spiritual well-being.”
Redeemed from our own personal exile, we move more deeply into our spiritual preparations for Pesach, Passover. Pesach literally means peh–sach, “the mouth (peh) talks (sach).” Around the world, sitting with family and friends representing many cultural and faith traditions, we will retell this story through questions, songs, blessings, texts, symbols and rituals. We all follow a set order, seder (The Song About All the Parts of The Pesach Seder ).
To be as inclusive as possible, we make accommodations depending on whom is sitting around the table – for age, language (more or less Hebrew), culture (Sepahardi, Oriental, Askhenazi, etc), experience, interfaith (Seder Story in Song) etc. This is done through the choice of haggadah (there are so many available!), how we set the table passover-seder-young-children-4-5-years ), the addition of new symbols to the seder plate to provoke discussion (free-trade coffee & chocolate, an orange, a tomato, etc. http://www.rac.org/seder-plate), multiple kinds of charoset (Italian charoset or google charoset), fun utubes (The Maccabeats – Les Misérables – Passover) melodies( utube has tons!) and so much more!
Pesach is one of the most inclusive and observed Jewish festivals. For some, it is about gathering family or reconstructing nostalgic memories. For others, it is a point of entry for redeeming the exploited in today’s world. It is an opportunity to transmit a rich heritage to our children and grandchildren. It doesn’t have to take hours – check out the three- minutes seder (3 minutes Passover seder ) or check out “The 30-minute Haggadah” (30 minute Seder ).
On the other hand, some folks enjoy using seder for deep and stimulating conversation. Invite participants to bring short quotes or questions that will stimulate fun and engaging discussion (http://www.templerodefshalom.org/passover-stir-up-your-seder/)
As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Most importantly, Pesach invites engagement. So many people are stuck in the constriction of feeling they don’t know enough to lead a seder or may never have led a seder before. It doesn’t matter where you begin – just give yourself permission to do it! And have fun making new memories!
May this Pesach instill you with the ometz lev (courage) to free yourself from all that enslaves you – from all that leaves you hopeless – from all that cuts you off from those you love. May this be a time for unburdening, healing, renewal and growth. As you embrace your freedom, may you in turn help to liberate those still enslaved, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
From my home to yours, David and I wish you and those you love a sweet and liberating Pesach!
Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi
Pesach 5756/ April 2016