This year, the Passover journey from Egypt and slavery to freedom and human dignity feels particularly poignant. The Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, also connotes “the narrow place,” a place of constriction.
These past two years of Pandemic, along with all that has unfolded at the same time, have challenged each of us differently, but we all have been affected.
Our own tables are likely to be different than they were three years ago. Some of us will be remembering and holding in our hearts those who have died. Some of us still need to be cautious about social interaction. Communally, we extend solidarity, love, and support to all who are suffering from Russia’s violent assault on Ukraine and its inhabitants. We share heartbreak about the recent terrorist attacks in Israel and antisemitic incidents at home. We hold in our hearts people suffering from mental illness and their caregivers; we allow space for our climate of grief.
It’s not possible – or necessary – to name all that may be weighing on our hearts. The Seder gives a metaphorical container and pathway for moving from the place of constriction to a place of expansive possibility. Noticing our personal places of constriction is a first step, as we are commanded to tell the story as if we ourselves went out from Egypt. “And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what יהוה did for me when I went free from Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8). We begin the Seder’s journey feeling into the places of constriction in our hearts, our lives, our communities. And we know, through historic memory, that freedom and human dignity win out at the end of the story.
Passover teaches not only the story of moving from constriction to expansiveness but also the importance of celebrating our joys at every step along the way. On the first night of Passover, we thank God for keeping us alive, sustaining us, and allowing us to arrive at this very moment. Reciting this shehecheyanu prayer invites us to notice, from a deep place of gratitude, how much truly is good in this moment. The teachings of the Four Children can help us appreciate all who may be at our tables, in our gloriously different approaches. Dayenu reminds us to notice what has been achieved along the way, even as we strive for more kindness, more justice, more human dignity. Throughout the evening, we invent new ways to engage the children and ask new questions to engage all ages.
Celebrating simchas (joyous moments), ritual moments, and many simple acts of kindness are time-tested, powerful tools for the journey from constriction/enslavement to freedom/dignity. We don’t make this journey alone; rather as a community.
Additionally, our Jewish community offers counseling and other vital resources through the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis and the Jewish Family Service of St. Paul, as well as pastoral care offered by rabbis and cantors in congregations and organizations across Minnesota.
May all have a “zissen Pesach,” a sweet celebration, and be nourished for the journey toward new possibilities.
Rabbi Debra Rappaport is the co-chair of the Minnesota Rabbinic Association