This year April overlaps, more or less, with the lunar month of Nissan. At the full moon of Nissan we retell our people’s core story as we celebrate Pesach, festival of our liberation.
As it says in the traditional haggadah:
We were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Holy One brought us forth from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm… Therefore it is incumbent on each of us to see ourselves as though we, ourselves, had been brought forth from Mitzrayim.
The Hebrew name Mitzrayim, “Egypt,” shares a root with the word tzuris, suffering. The root is m/tz/r, connoting narrowness, constriction, tight places. The Psalmist writes, “From the narrow place I called to You; You answer me with expansiveness!” (Psalm 118:5). That’s the Passover story in a nutshell.
The commandment to see ourselves as though we had been brought forth from Mitzrayim is a reminder that the Exodus isn’t just about “them” back “then.” This story is always also about us here-and-now. It’s about our lived experience of tight places. It’s about recognizing the need for change, and setting forth into the unknown even if we don’t have time to let our bread dough rise.
From their narrow place our ancient ancestors cried out to God, and — our sages say — that crying-out was the first step toward liberation. That’s the first spiritual move of this season, the move that comes before the Exodus can begin: we notice where we feel trapped, and we cry out. We reach out to God, and that internal shift creates an opening for a new reality.
As always, if “the G-word” doesn’t work for you, try: we reach toward justice, toward love, toward hope for better than what we know now. Remember what we learned from Mariame Kaba last Rosh Hashanah: hope isn’t just a pretty word, it’s a a discipline. So is justice. So is love. When we yearn toward them, we jumpstart our capacity to live them. That’s how we begin to prepare ourselves to move from the narrow place to expansiveness.
There are traditions of spring cleaning to remove leaven from our homes, which can also be reinterpreted as spiritual spring cleaning to remove the “puffery” of excessive ego and old soured stories from our spirits and our hearts. Both of these practices can help us prepare ourselves for transformation on seder night.
And then there are practices for after seder night, too! At seder we live into the story of breaking free from oppression and setting off into the wilderness of the unknown future. The wilderness (midbar) is where God speaks (m’daber). That’s where we’ll receive Torah and enter into the covenant of mitzvot that shapes our spiritual and ethical lives. Enter the post-seder practice of counting the seven weeks until Shavuot.
Starting on the second night of Pesach we’ll count the 49 days of the Omer until once again we reach Sinai where we’ll receive revelation anew and recommit ourselves to the covenant of Jewish life and practice. Just as Elul and the Days of Awe fuel our spiritual lives in the fall and on through the winter, this journey fuels us in the spring and on through the summer to come.
Our second-night community seder will once again take place on Zoom and will require an RSVP. (Stay tuned for more information on that.) This year we will once again hold a Zoom seder jointly with Temple Beth El of City Island, co-led by me and by Rabbi David Markus, featuring melody and poetry and social justice, classical texts and new interpretations, laughter and contemplation and song. Join us as we take our first shared steps toward what’s next.
I can’t wait to take this journey again with all of you.
Blessings to all,
— Rabbi Rachel