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This Year We Are Slaves, Next Year We May Be Free

Posted on February 28, 2018

I’m chuckling to myself as I write this article. For many of the past few years, I would sit in my office in NJ, watching the snow piled high, experiencing the cold and darkness of the winter, and pining for spring. I would write the bulletin article for March, hoping that it would be brighter and nicer than the world in which I found myself while writing.

With a relocation to Southern California, the end of Winter and beginning of spring has taken on a new meaning for me. Personally, even though it will be 80 degrees here today, and it doesn’t exactly feel like the winters of my youth, there is still a winter difference here in Woodland Hills. The days are shorter, and people are slogging through the next few months of school or work, looking forward to the spring and summer when things start to feel a little different.

In a few short weeks (about four from the time you’re reading this), it will be Pesach. We will gather around our tables and share the story of our people’s exodus from Egypt. While Passover is known as the holiday of the Seder and the exodus, it is also the holiday of spring. Every year (whether it comes “early” or “late”), Passover celebrates the coming of spring and the natural rebirth we witness all around. Pesach is an embrace of the buds of flowers, of the resurgence of animals and plants all around us, to come out from their winter hibernation and celebrate the longer and warmer days ahead. We see this manifested in many ways, including through the pesach Seder.

While many of us are familiar with the theme of the Exodus on pesach, it is actually intertwined with the theme of spring and rebirth. As a people, we actually experienced a rebirth, from slavery to freedom. In fact, that literal translation of the Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, is “the narrow place.” When we leave Egypt, or the narrow place, we are reborn as a people.

“B’chol dor v’dor chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’elu who yatzah m’mitrayim.”

 In every generation, every one of us is commanded to see ourselves as if we had been slaves in Egypt. This commandment is the basis for much of the symbolism of the Seder. We are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus, not as a history lesson, but as our own personal narratives. Our autobiographies if you will. We might think that it is hard to truly live these words. After all, how can we relate to slaves who lived thousands of years ago? They didn’t even have iPads!

We start our Pesach seder in sadness dipping green vegetables into salt water and eating bitter herbs (not to mention waiting an ungodly amount of time to eat our meal). But as our seder progresses, due to the wine we are drinking or not, we get happier and happier. We end our seders by joyfully singing praises of God in the Hallel prayer. We see that even slaves who thought nothing could save them, were able to find salvation.

Many of you know that I used to work at Beit Teshuva, a residential treatment facility for addiction in Culver City. While I was there, I had the opportunity to work on an original play called Freedom Song. It tells the story of addicts who are trying to find their way in the world. While this show has been going for over ten years, it constantly changes depending on the cast, personalizing the dialogue with their own autobiographical information as they narrate their journey from addiction to recovery. The action takes place in two separate locations, one a meeting of addicts in recovery, and the other, a family Passover seder. In excruciating detail, they tell of what they went through, and what they put other people through, because of their addiction. These are people who understand what it means to say that they have been slaves. For them, it is not a stretch to feel as if they “had been slaves in Egypt.”

While not all of us are recovering addicts, we all know what it is to struggle and to suffer. We all know what it means to feel hopeless and lost. Someone once told me that the difference between an addict and a “normie” (their term for non-addicts) is that addicts know that they’re broken.

There are times when we all feel like things are beyond our control, when things are bleak and seem beyond hope. We can learn from our ancestors and from the residents of Beit T’shuvah that even in our darkest moments, there is still hope.  We know that even slaves can become free.

 As we say in the haggadah, this year we are slaves, next year may we be free. Whatever our slavery, whether it is physical, or psychological, next year may we be free. This year we are exiled. Next year may we all live free in the Promised Land.

 

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