One message that can be overlooked, however, is what Passover teaches us about the path towards taking on these values. How do we make sure we are living out these ideals? What will give us the courage to live with such purpose?
One social justice Haggadah from the Union for Reform Judaismsums up the answer well when it cites the poet Adrienne Rich's take on Rabbi Hillel's famous series of questions:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am for myself only, what am I?
And if not now, when?
- Hillel, Pirkei Avot 1:14.
And if not with others, how?
- Adrienne Rich, Blood, Bread, and Poetry.
When we pause to think about it, how wise that the central Passover ritual affords us the opportunity to gather with others--some close to us and some who we may not know as well--at the very moment we commit to change ourselves and the world.
Our current siddur, Mishkan Tefillah, offers a similar message. Just before we sing the Mi Chamocha, the prayer that invokes our past to remind us that change is possible for the future, we often read these words:
Standing on the parted shores of history
We still believe what we were taught
Before ever we stood at Sinai's foot;
That wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt;
That there is a better place, a promised land;
That the winding way to that promise passes
through the wilderness;
That there is no way to get from here to there
Except by joining hands and marching together.
This text affirms that we are not and cannot be alone on our journeys to live meaningful lives. In fact, there is great power in connecting to a community. While we cannot rely solely on others to do the work for us, we can count on them for support, courage, creativity, and direction. We can look to them for inspiration when ours runs dry.
Conversely, each Pesach we remember how much others need us. Being in their presence moves us to compassion for them as individuals and as representatives of all humanity. We strengthen our resolve to heal our world. I have always believed that a central function of community is to ensure that we do not become cocooned or imprisoned in a world of only our own needs and those of our immediate loved ones. The words of Albert Einstein ring particularly true at this season:
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
May you continue to enjoy a Pesach filled with freedom and community!