Yom Rishon, 23 AdarI 5781
Sunday, 7 March 2021
Passover 2013

Rabbi Janet Darley

March 2013

By now our houses are probably a sea of matzah crumbs as we have chomped our way through boxes of the stuff.· And perhaps we are also coming to the end of the food we brought in for the festival. The American humorist Sam Levenson recalls he always knew Passover was coming when the carp appeared in the bathtub, their watery home for few days until being turned into gefilte fish.· And he wryly observed that the Israelites took less with them out of Mitzrayim than his mother brought in for the holidays-- seeing the overloaded shopping trolleys in Golders Green last week reminded me of that.

Passover takes preparation.· And so does freedom.

A few weeks ago I saw the film Lincoln, set in the last days of the US Civil War.·The focus of this film is the attempt to pass the 13th Amendment to the American Constitution which outlawed slavery for all time.

Certainly that sort of freedom is important and that is clearly one message of Passover—after all we read (or sing) “avadim hayeinu” in our seder. However, both the experience of slavery in the United States and the episodes Torah relates of the later struggles of the Israelites suggest that physical liberation is only the beginning.

Every year when I begin to prepare for Passover, I view the festival and its message slightly differently, but I always seem to return to the word Mitzrayim.Translating it as Egypt makes it all too easy to focus on the surface story—the ending of physical enslavement and servitude. Remembering that its meaning is “narrow place” causes us to look deeper. Long after they left Mitzrayim the Israelites were still in a narrow place. . The Exodus freed their bodies, but their minds and souls were still caught up in the familiarity that was Egypt—the food for example.· And the comfort of the familiar seemed to draw them back, even though they had suffered the pain of slavery.

Being freed is not the same as becoming free. They struggled to cope with the insecurity and unfamiliarity of their new-found freedom; couldn’t see the potential it gave them for carving out a new and better way of life.· They looked backward whenever the going was tough.· They were frightened of the unknown, of the future.· Much like those we sometimes refer to as institutionalised, they longed for the familiar, seemingly unable to understand the potential before them.

Like them we often struggle to come out of our own narrow places—old habits, old ways of life, are hard to break out of.· Sometimes we don’t even seem to realise we have the freedom to do so. But Judaism has always looked forward, has always seen the possibilities inherent in the future.· As individuals and as a community we are always journeying from there to here, and from here on into an unknown future.· We may need to walk, at least figuratively, through rushing water and even climb mountains, but we put one foot in front of the other and keep going.