By Rabbi Alison Abrams,
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
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
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance
for Justice and Peace
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Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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