4.10.2006

Happy Passover! Chag Kasher v'Sameyach!

To learn something new about slavery and freedom, liberation, bravery, and courage, please read this. I think it might be Cecily's best post ever, and it exemplifies why I continue to read her blog.

It also exemplifies something that I feel is at the core of my understanding both of why people suffer and why Passover is so important to me and to the Jewish people. Indulge in a bit of text study with me, if you would:

יט ואהבתם, את-הגר: כי-גרים הייתם, בארץ מצרים.
19 You shall love therefore the stranger; because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Who among us has not been a "stranger in the land of Egypt"?

Who among us has not felt enslaved, trapped, abused, despondent, neglected, stuck, addicted, depressed, or bereft?

I can't really even pretend to know the answer to why we suffer, and maybe the answer is simply that for some reason, life would be intolerable if nothing bad ever happened. I am more interested in answering the question of, "Given that we do suffer, what do we do with the experience?"

An essential aspect of Passover is that each of us must feel as if we were slaves in Egypt and then experience, through the Passover seder, the moment of liberation. After liberation, in the Sinai desert, the Jewish people received the command to "love the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt." If we had not been "strangers in the land of Egypt," we could not truly know the plight of the strangers who move among us and we could not be obligated to love them. It is probably impossible to love the unknowable and God does not command us to do the impossible.

Our intimate, personal knowledge of suffering from Egypt requires us to care not only for the stranger, but also for the fatherless and the widow:

יח וזכרת, כי עבד היית במצרים, ויפדך יקוק אלקיך, משם; על-כן אנכי מצוך, לעשות, את-הדבר, הזה. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you then; therefore I command thee to do this thing. יט כי תקצר קצירך בשדך ושכחת עמר בשדה, לא תשוב לקחתו--לגר ליתום ולאלמנה, יהיה: למען יברכך יקוק אלהיך, בכל מעשה ידיך. 19 When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 24:18-19)

We who have suffered ourselves, and who have, through the strength given to us by God (or the power inherent in our beings--as you wish), been freed from any kind of slavery or suffering, truly know how the other half lives and suffers and only we can truly help them. I don't want to say that we suffer in order to help others. Who would volunteer for that thankless task? I would be justifiably outraged if someone said that to me. However, once we see and know that suffering is for some unfathomable reason necessary in this world, we have no choice but to use our own personal suffering, and our own redemption, to help others.

That is why Passover is so important and central to the story that I tell about my own life, and to the story that the Jewish people tells about it's history and raison d'etre.

This is what Cecily does and continues to do, and this is why I needed to blog about David's death. It's tragic that we can't undo what happens to us, but we can try to use that pain to make sure it isn't as bad for someone else. (Of course, if we try to help others by writing then we are also helping ourselves climb out of that pit of despair, because the act of writing is itself therapeutic.) The world being the way it is, there is suffering that we ourselves have yet to experience, and, hopefully, someday, somebody else who has trodden that path ahead of us will appear to ease our burden.

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If these words resonate with you, you should really consider going to the Darfur rally on April 30.

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On a lighter note, for your viewing pleasure. Note that it comes with sound, so be careful if you're clicking at work. (Not that you would be reading my blog at work or anything.) And for your reading pleasure.

Have a happy, healthy, and liberated Pesach (Passover), everyone!

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