A reflection from Rabbi Dr Harrie Cedar, Jewish Chaplain
Friday 15 April – Saturday 23 April 2022
Pesach means ‘Passover’, when the Divine ‘passed over’ the homes of the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt. The story is told in the Hebrew Bible, in a section called Exodus. The commemorative festival of Pesach lasts for 8 days. During this time we are forbidden to eat ‘Hamatz’, leavened, risen food in remembrance of the Israelites leaving Egypt with unleavened food. The spiritual understanding of this is to do with egos (leavened, risen and puffed up) versus faith in the Divine (unleavened and humble).
Since childhood Pesach has been my favourite festival. There is something about all the preparations in the home, the cleaning, the changing of kitchen ware, the clearing out of leavened foods, happening as it does in the spring, a time of renewal. There is also something wonderful about knowing that others are doing the same in a cultural marker of time and custom.
In religious terms, this is the time when a large tribe of slaves was liberated from their oppressors and taken into a liminal space, a desert devoid of anything. They were not yet ready to enter their promised land.
Most of these slaves were very dependent and needed to learn to rely more on the Divine rather than on an earthly king. Like children, they had food (manna from Heaven) provided. They had water provided. They did not know how to be independent. In this desert, this liminal space, they were given guidance, ideas of governance, how to live together on this shared planet as independent adults.
It is hard to move ‘from’ slavery ‘to’ freedom. There is a ‘from’ and a ‘to’. Most of us think that freedom is to be free ‘from’ things, from restrictions, from rules, from boundaries, but the example in Exodus, is very different. It is a freedom ‘to’; a freedom to choose (slaves do not have that freedom); a freedom to responsibility; a freedom to justice; a freedom to independence; difficult places to be requiring huge amounts of work. Only truly grown-up individuals understand the amount of work it takes to be righteously free, rather than badly free, stealing, murdering and being childishly destructive.
This festival celebrates that liberation and we have re-enacted it each year since. It is one of the many (613) commandments in the Bible. Each year, as we gather around the table to celebrate, it is humbling and righteous to think of the things that each one of us has come to rely on and need to be liberated from in our quest to be truly free.
At this time of spring renewal (and spring cleaning out) I wish you all a very liberating time where you cast off the things that are holding you back from realising your full potential as independent adults with free will. May you always choose the right path.
15 April 2022