Passover, Then and Now

It is well known that Passover is the Jewish holiday of freedom and independence. On it, we commemorate and re-experience the Jewish people's emergence from the slavery and persecution of Egypt as well as their birth as a nation unto itself.

As all events included in the Torah and appearing on the Jewish calendar, this is not merely a nice story of what once was, but a personal tale of what is. Each of us can connect with the Passover experience on one level or another. We have to be tuned in to its deeper and more personal messages.

The Oral Torah has three ways of illustrating the Jewish experience leading up to their move from national slavery to national freedom and from national dependence to national independence:

  1. The Jews were like a bird trapped in a birdcage.
  2. The Jews were like a fetus in a womb.
  3. The Jews were like an unrefined brick of gold.

These three seem to be getting at the same point but there are subtle differences between them.

One of the Chassidic masters, the Rebbe of Apt, explains that these three illustrations reflect Jews living three levels of Jewish life.

The bird is an independent entity trapped in an object completely foreign to it. This, says the Apter Rebbe, represents the righteous Jew, who, even after many years in the Egyptian exile, remained true to his roots and unaffected by the cultural influences there.

The fetus in a womb is, on the one hand, its own entity, but is, on the other hand, a part of its mother. This speaks to those Jews whose Jewish identity remained somewhat intact in Egypt, but, nevertheless, grew to share a certain identity with their surrounding culture and ideology.

The unrefined brick of gold represents those Jews that became so engrossed in Egyptian culture and fell so out of touch with their Jewish identities that they grew indiscernible from their Egyptian neighbors, just as the actual gold and the impurities contained within an unrefined block of gold are indiscernible from one another.

The exodus from Egypt came to liberate the Jews on all levels and was, of course, relevant for all.

Passover Today
The Passover message for today is quite clear.

The Passover holiday and the energy that comes along with it is that of freedom-not just freedom from the Egypt of the past, but freedom from our Egypts of the present. We all have our own personal Egypts in our lives, those things holding us back and pulling us away from getting in touch with our true selves and living out the reality of who we are.

This Passover, may we take a step back from the life that seems to have been scripted for us and from the society that raised us in order to reevaluate our lives, ideals, aspirations, and the direction in which we are heading; and may we get in touch with our inner identities, our souls, and follow up on that reality in the spirit of true freedom and independence.