Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Escaping From Human Oppression

From yesterday's Orange County Register, "Passover's message can resonate with everyone":
"Why is this night different from all other nights?" Thus, at sunset Monday, will begin the ritual of questions during the Seder meal with which Jews start the celebration of Passover, or Pesach, which commemorates the deliverance of the Israelite slaves from bondage in Egypt. The youngest child at the table is expected to answer the questions, fulfilling the commandment, "And thou shalt tell thy son."

According to tradition, as related in the book of Exodus, the Israelites were made slaves in ancient Egypt. But Yahweh, the Hebrew God, instructed Moses to demand of the ruling Pharaoh that His people be released. Pharaoh refused, and Yahweh brought 10 plagues down upon Egypt. The final plague was the death of the firstborn son in every household. The Jews were instructed to sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on the house's lintel or doorpost. Seeing the blood, the Angel of Death would pass over that house. After this final plague, Pharaoh relented and allowed the Jews to leave.

"Passover speaks to every generation because every generation sees dictators and tyrants aiming to destroy the dreams, hopes, religious beliefs and cultural identities of population subgroups within their borders," Rabbi Dov Fischer, of the Irvine-based Young Israel of Orange County, told us. "The Jewish people in Egypt, even in slavery, refused to be forcibly assimilated.  Rather, the Jews retained their language, their Hebrew names and their forms of dress throughout their centuries of slavery."

Why do we eat only unleavened bread, or matzoh, on Pesach? To remember that when the Jews left Egypt there was not time to allow the bread to rise, so the dough was baked into hard crackers. Why do we eat bitter herbs? To remind us of the cruelty the Jews suffered. Why do we dip our foods? We dip bitter herbs into Charoset made of apples and nuts, which resemble clay used for bricks, to remind us how hard the slaves had to work. Parsley is dipped into saltwater, symbolizing that spring is here, and new life will grow. The saltwater reminds us of the tears of the Jewish slaves. Why do we lean on a pillow? To be comfortable and to remind us that once we were slaves, and now we are free.

Passover is typically celebrated for seven days in Israel and among Reform Jews, and for eight days among diaspora Conservative and Orthodox Jews. It recalls the birth of a Jewish nation, freed of Egyptian oppression and able to serve Yahweh, or God, alone. The first and last days are full festivals, marked by abstention from work, special prayer services and holiday meals. Jews eat only unleavened bread during the entire observance.

Passover commemorates the birth of a Jewish nation consecrated to serve Yahweh, not the Pharaoh. It is a time to be humble and to remember what it was like to be a slave. Most of all, it is a celebration of freedom, of the joys and opportunities available when we are not forced to serve others.

"As Americans, we oppose tyranny and dictatorships throughout the world, from Saddam Hussein in Iraq to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi in Libya to the Taliban in Afghanistan.  We know that, if dictators and tyrants are not stopped, they eventually expand their sights and attack us, too," Fischer said. "We celebrate freedom, and we respect and cherish the many expressions of cultural identity and religious belief that have contributed to make America great."
Still more at that top link.