By Rabbi Alison Abrams, Rabbinic Cabinet

As the Israelites were turning their backs on servitude and walking toward freedom, God kept watch: That was for God a night of vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt; this same night is God's, one of vigil for all the children of Israel throughout the ages. (Exodus 12:42)

As we sit down to our seders, we recall this moment of conscious awareness between the darkness of slavery and the light of freedom. An entire people's identity changes in that twilight as they step out of being a nation of slaves toward the possibility of living as a free people.  The text tells us that God kept watch, emphasizing the power of those hours and the vulnerability of the Israelites.  In doing so, God bore witness to their experience, offering security, support, and strength in those hours of the unknown. The Israelites may have been navigating their way out of a narrow place, but they had little idea of what their future might bring.  Thousands of years later we will tell this story not only to remember the past but also to commit ourselves to a future that reflects a different reality from the one in which we presently live.

On Wednesday night we will remember that we were slaves in the land of Egypt, and rededicate ourselves to the eradication of oppression for all people.  We will recall God's vigil - the hours of watching over us - and thereby remind ourselves that we have a responsibility to watch over those people who are still in mitzrayim, literally a "narrow place", but who yearn to move toward a place of freedom and peace, particularly the Israeli and Palestinian people. Our participation in their efforts for peace are necessary to diminish the demons of ignorance, despair, and violence as both communities stand at the threshold of a new dawn.

Our vigil cannot be passive but must come in the form of sustained, engaged dialogue and action that contributes to a creative vision for the Middle East.  As we open the door for Elijah to proclaim the messianic era of shalom, let us commit to a vigil of hope that nurtures the ability of Israelis and Palestinians to access tools of compassion and understanding as they navigate through narrow spaces.  Just as God heard the cries of the Israelites and stood by their side as they moved toward liberation, we too will hear the cries of two anguished peoples.  We have an obligation to hear their stories, voice our support for justice, and stand in resistance to those who want to use swords of violence instead of plowshares of peace.

The night during which we leave war and strife behind has been long and we have not yet emerged into the light of lasting peace, but we soon can. Political pressure, calls for responsible governance, insisting on the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live without fear - these are the manifestations of an effective and engaged vigil of hope.  As we work and watch, we can sing the words of hope that Passover brings:

Eliyahu haNavi...bimeheirach v'yameinu yavo eileinu im mashiach ben David.
Elijah the Prophet, soon and in our days, will come to herald the healing of the world.

Discussion Questions For Passover:

  • How can our Passover observance serve as spiritual preparation for our own political engagement?

  • Why is the model of hope heralded by Elijah so important in the shadow of the Gaza War and the election of a predominantly right-wing coalition in Israel?

  • In what ways can we be voices of hope that will sustain everyone in this struggle and contribute to a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Rabbi Alison Abrams is a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom. Rabbi Abrams currently serves as the Director of Faith Community Outreach at Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), organizing people of faith to respond to the crisis of working poverty in Los Angeles.  Beginning July 1, she will be the assistant rabbi at Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL. Rabbi Abrams graduated from Smith College in 2002 with a B.A. in Women’s Studies and was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, California in 2008.

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