By Rabbi Mendy Goldberg
Friday night, April 22, Jews the world over will be celebrating the first night of Passover with a traditional meal called the “Seder.” During the Seder, we observe various traditions such as eating the “matzah” (an unleavened bread) horseradish and drinking four cups of wine.
All of these rituals are reminders of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt 3,327 years ago, the birth of the Jewish nation. Our ancestor’s miraculous release from oppression to freedom has served as a source of inspiration for many generations and will do so for many more to come.
A central theme of this holiday is asking questions and providing relevant answers so that children will understand the significance of this celebration. I, however, find myself asking year-after-year the same question: What meaning does an ancient story and its associated ceremony hold for the average American in 2016? How can we look at events that transpired so long ago and still be spiritually inspired by them?
The answer is found in the Talmudic dictum: “In every generation a person must feel as if he or she was liberated from Egypt.” In other words, we have a responsibility to make an ancient experience important to us living in modern times. We achieve this by recognizing that the imprisonment from which the ancient Hebrews sought emancipation is conceptually still present.
Slavery finds many forms and takes on various appearances. In days of old, it was depicted by a whip-toting taskmaster hovering over a slave with a chain wrapped around his ankle. Today, bondage is often found in our jobs, relationships and attitudes where we find ourselves addicted to a certain negative trait and find it excruciatingly difficult to “break free.” Sometimes we are trapped in a bad relationship or negative habitual behaviors with no easy way out. Then there are those who are enslaved to material items and cannot possibly fathom life without them. At times we box ourselves into believing less in ourselves then we are truly capable of. Are these not the modern-day equivalents of slavery?
Therefore, every year as we begin the holiday of Passover and the celebration of freedom, we are reminded that the stories we recount and the rituals we observe are more about a commitment to the present then reminiscing about the past. During this time of year, we once again reaffirm our obligation to fight all forms of bigotry, negativity and slavery, be they within or without, to think and do “out of the box,” realize and actualize our true potential. And, most important, we devote ourselves to being positive members of society at a time when we all crave the most priceless blessing of all: peace on earth.
Rabbi Mendy Goldberg is the Rabbi at Lubavitch of the East End in Coram.