This week, we begin to commemorate our exodus from Egypt.
On Passover, we are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus and to see ourselves as having lived through it, to better learn how to live today. We connect the story to our lives in our own times.
We are commanded In Exodus 13:8 to tell our children the story: “…and you shall explain to your child on that day…” Why do you think we are commanded to do so? I think the stories we tell children can shape what they believe is possible. The stories we share bring all sorts possibilities to life. Until someone tells us, or we have lived an experience, we don’t know what is possible.
We read about Moses’ rescue. His mother, sister, two now-famous midwives, Shifrah and Puah, as well as Pharaoh’s daughter Batya, create the circumstances that allow Moses to grow up.
These women had a vision of what should be. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their vision a reality. The women in Moses’ life made possible the continuation of his.
While we look to the heroines of our story and find encouragement, we see reflected in our own experiences a reason to be hopeful, as we witness the unprecedented and long overdue appointment of a woman of color to the Supreme Court.
We also have the opportunity to reflect on those things from which we hope to be liberated. During many seders this year, the heart-breaking events in Ukraine will be part of telling the story, as we relate our ancient deliverance to today’s events. I hope we will talk about what is possible as well as the pain we see.
The Jews of Exodus, like the refugees of Ukraine, fled from overwhelming forces and became homeless, placeless; it is not hard to make the connection. The act of making this connection can help us relate. We know our own history as refugees, not only in terms of “the” Exodus, but throughout our history. Trauma makes a powerful connection as we witness the pain and sorrow the Ukrainians are experiencing.
Many Jewish organizations are taking these connections to heart. They are at the Polish, Maldovan, and Romanian borders, providing food, first aid, and shelters for Ukrainian refugees, despite the antisemitism that has been seen in Ukraine in the past.
During the Chmelnitzki Uprising, between 1648 and 1657, between 100,000 and 500,000 Jews were killed. More recently, on Sept. 26, 1941, when Ukraine was under Nazi occupation, 100,000 Jews were murdered over two days in Babi Yir. But this history is not on the minds of those helping the Ukrainians.
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, the global refugee agency of the American Jewish community, says:
“… (the situation in Ukraine is) waking up Americans to realize that really anyone can be a refugee. ... We’re all created in the image of G-d. ... We’re all people, and any one of us can be subject to this level of vulnerability no matter where we are right now … my community has certainly learned that the hard way.”
The Jews are the community to which he is referring.
And so this year, when we tell the story of the exodus from Egypt, many of us will connect our foundational story to the Ukrainians’ plight. For Passover, at seders around the world and here in Santa Ynez, we will bring to our holiday table the pain of exile as well as the hope that comes from helping those in need of aid.
The Passover story recalls to each one of us that with vision and action we can join hands with others of like mind, kindling lights along paths leading out of the darkest darkness.
Genesis 46:3-4 - Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I myself will bring you down to Egypt and I myself will bring you back.
Hag Pesach Sameach,
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