By Rabbi Julie
From an early age, we can relate to
the longing for freedom, a fundamental motif of Passover. We
sing "Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, and tell old
Pharaoh: Let my people go!" -- and we can really understand the
feeling behind the demand. From young to old, we have all
experienced unfairness enforced by authority, whether cruelly or
well-intentioned. So it seems natural to see ourselves as if we,
and not only our ancestors, were slaves hoping for freedom and
finally going out of Egypt.
In fact, seeing ourselves in
this way is an explicit element of observing Passover. We enter
the story of the Exodus each year by psychologically 'collapsing
history,' so that we feel the Israelites' suffering in our own
hearts. At the same time, our image of the Egyptian Pharaoh
becomes a magnet for our indignation at present-day oppressors.
This identification of the characters of the Exodus story with
the players in current dramas of oppression and liberation has
the potential to help us gather inspiration and perspective for
our work toward peace and justice today.
Though it can
be tempting to label particular leaders or political parties as
'Pharaohs' and others as 'slaves,' this can degenerate into
simplistic comparisons that never move conversation very far in
the direction of new understanding. A close reading of the story
presents many thought-provoking scenes and interactions that
challenge us to move beyond the Good Guy/Bad Guy assignment of
Here is just one that might spark meaningful
conversations at our seders next week:
Before the final
devastating plague on the Egyptians, Moses instructs the people
to ask for objects of gold and silver from their Egyptian
neighbors. God disposes the Egyptians favorably toward the
Israelites, and they generously agree. Some Rabbinic
commentators equate the valuables to a kind of payment for the
years of unpaid work that the slaves had done. But the text
itself does not call it payment, and the people giving the gifts
are the Israelites' neighbors, likely also slaves, who faced an
oppression equal or similar to the Israelites. This passage
leaves us with questions that provoke real thinking rather than
labels or conclusions --
We are now in yet
another moment of change in the landscape of Israeli-Palestinian
political relations. In order to continue to offer our steady
support and our commitment to a just peace between Israelis and
Palestinians in the long term, we must stay connected to our
knowledge that all people are potential allies in the fight for
- When have we seen one oppressed people generously help
- Is/was such help given with the expectation of help in
- What in our own experience fuels our deep concern for the
Israeli and Palestinian peoples?
1. Incorporate passages from these
resources into your seder traditions:
2. Start a dialogue about the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict at your seder table. Below are
ideas for questions:
Do you think that we, as American
Jews, can be anything more than spectators to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, watching a tragedy unfold more
deeply each day?
3. For those
who are interested in a text-based discussion: The Prophet
Elijah is believed to herald the Messiah's arrival. It is
customary during the seder to set aside a cup of wine for him
and even to open a door in anticipation of his arrival. One of
the central issues in rabbinical debate is about when Elijah and
thus the messiah will arrive: Will it take place when people
have committed themselves fully to the repair of the world, or
will the Messiah arrive as a function of divine intervention?
- What do you think we can we do to best support Israelis in
this time of crisis?
- What exactly do you think is the threat now facing the
Jews/Israelis and how do you believe we can most effectively
address that threat?
- What can we do to bring about a peaceful solution to the
- Do you think we'll ever be able to tell our children that
Jews are no longer at war with our Arab neighbors?
- Is there any way to resolve this conflict without one side
winning and the other losing?
- Do you have any Muslim or Arab friends or acquaintances and
if not, have you ever considered trying to build a friendship
with someone of Muslim or Arab heritage?
Read the First Book of Kings, Chapter 21 as a basis for
you have other ideas, please contact the Rabbinic Cabinet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What was the role of Elijah in the Bible? Is this where we
get the idea of speaking truth to power?
- Are there situations in your life when you feel as though
you are acting in Elijah's spirit?
- Why might he, in particular, have been chosen as the
harbinger of the Messiah?
- How does Elijah's sprit relate to our own work on behalf of
a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Saxe-Taller is the Assistant Rabbi of Congregation Sherith
Israel in San Francisco, California. She serves on Brit Tzedek's
Rabbinic Cabinet, and as a board member of the Bay Area chapter
of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a new and growing
organization dedicated to asserting a progressive Jewish
presence in social and economic justice campaigns. Before
becoming a rabbi, she worked in Jewish high school education,
and directed a Jewish living and community service program for
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance
for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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