By Dr. Jeremy Benstein.
Pesach is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays. But I think most people get it wrong.
For many, it is an event – a week in the spring – celebrating another event, the Exodus from Egypt, and the leaving of slavery. But as we prepare for this big festival, it becomes clear that this holiday is not an isolated event, but a process. And this “process” of Pesach actually commemorates not an event, but another process. A journey in fact. Or at least the beginning of one.
If there’s a point to the holiday, a takeaway for us today, it’s that freedom is not a state, but a journey. An ongoing one. We’re always on that road. We are in a continuous process of subjugation and liberation. And I’m not just talking about our hopeful return to more freedom and health after a devastating global pandemic (although that too). Enslavement or subjugation can mean many things, not only slavery and oppression, but also addictions, self-imposed restrictions and passivity, and also despair, cynicism, and internalized powerlessness that all prevent us from enacting our freedom, from realizing our humanity, and the potential of our spirits.
That journey on the road of liberation – of doing the work to free ourselves of old limitations and new fears – is not so different from the journey to a just, sustainable world. That, too, is a process, always unfolding, with us continuously confronting old habits and new challenges. It is a journey both of self-discovery, and of relationship building. And it too is a struggle against cynicism, denial, and lack of belief that real change is possible. We at the Heschel Center have been undertaking that voyage for over 25 years now, and we invite you to come along.
The visions of ultimate freedom and complete sustainability might both be unattainable, but like the North Star, we can still navigate our journeys according to their light.
Pesach returns each year to remind us that just as the spring arrives with its promise of renewal, so we too can work on our own and our society’s self-renewal and that together we can learn to sustain one another and this crazy beautiful world that is our home.
We are always on the way to making this the Promised Land, and to fulfilling its promises.
May your maror be pungent, your charoset be sticky and sweet – and the taste of freedom inspire us to do great things.
Bivracha – from the Heschel Center