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Netanya / Interfaith Relations / Celebrating Passover
The Bible commands us to celebrate the festival of Passover (Exodus 13:3): "Remember this day when you came out a free nation, from the land of Egypt." The Hebrew word for remember is expressed in a very special way - zachor. There is another zachor: "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." These two remembrances are linked together because they demand re-experiencing, a remembering by doing.
In the Ten Commandments, the celebration of the Sabbath is both linked to creation and the Egyptian servitude. In keeping the Sabbath, we are testifying that God is the creator and redeemer of the world. Therefore, every week, we must re-experience God's primordial week, the world has a creator, meaning and redemption.
On Passover, the commandment is about re-experiencing the exile and the exodus from Egypt. The entire Seder is transforming the historical national memory of the Exodus into personal individual experience. Why remember our humble origins? Why remember that we were slaves? I dare say that if you read histories of ancient peoples, I don't know of any nation that glories in the humble past of servitude except for us.
We sing proudly Avadim Hayinu B'mitzraim - we were servants unto Pharaoh in Egypt. We can never stop being grateful that God brought us out with a strong arm and an outstretched hand. Once we understand that our God despises servitude, totalitarian governments and Pharaohs, he guarantees that we will ultimately achieve a world of peace and freedom. Remembering and personally experiencing our past servitude enables us to never despair no matter what the vagaries of history may impinge upon us.
The Bible repeats again and again the lesson that we must take with us from Egyptian servitude: You must love the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. It was a very critical forming agent in our national narrative. In other words, you knew what it was to feel the pain of servitude, so never enslave anyone else.
This is precisely what that evening in the Passover Seder is trying to accomplish. We must feel for at least part of one night a year the pangs of slavery, of hunger, of helplessness, of being another so that we will always reach out to others and help the elderly and the indigent and to free the enslaved.
By David Nekrutman
The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation
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