DURING PASSOVER WE celebrate the redemption of our people from slavery and their escape from Egypt.
During our Passover seder we are to feel as if we ourselves are experiencing the Exodus.
It was a harrowing time, when the Israelites fled the Pharaoh’s army with little but what they could carry on their backs.
They had just seen the miracles of the plagues which gave them the courage to leave everything they’d ever known and flee into the wilderness.
Imagine the fear in their hearts as they fled, but yet the hope for a better life for themselves and their children.
Of course this entire story cannot help but remind us of the pain and suffering of the refugees we see today, leaving their homes, fleeing horrific violence and coming to a totally unknown place.
We are told in the Torah to be kind to the stranger because we too were strangers in Egypt.
And as God delivered us, so too should we do all in our power to treat them as if they were our own.
No less than 36 times, the Torah commands just treatment of stranger, including the following: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress them, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20).
No wonder Jews identify so strongly with the plight of refugees and call for them to be treated with compassion and love.
Fear of the unknown
The Hebrew word for Egypt is mitzrayim, which literally means a narrow place.
Along with remembering the plight of the Israelites, and thus all refugees, we also are encouraged to think of our own personal forms of mitzrayim which enslave us.
What material things, bad habits, negative self talk or unhealthy relationships keep us in a narrow place in our lives?
Just as more than half of the Hebrews chose to stay enslaved because it was easier to continue the life they knew, rather than go into the unknown, we too sometimes choose to not let go of things that restrict us because they make us feel comfortable.
There is a beautiful Jewish song that expresses the importance of overcoming our fears when facing the narrow places in our lives.
The hauntingly beautiful melody sends the words into one’s very soul.
“Kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tsar me’od. … the whole world is a very narrow bridge. Vaha’ikar lo lefached klal … and above all is not to fear at all.”
When the world seems chaotic and frightening, we often resolve to stay where we are, where we feel safe … in our narrow places.
Rabbi Yael Levy’s interpretation of Psalm 20:10 can give us the courage to walk through that narrow bridge: “I called out from the narrow place and was answered with expansiveness.”
In her reflections on Passover, Levy’s inspiring words help us to let go of the things which keep us in bondage.
“It is time to leave the narrow places,
“To leave what keeps you small and afraid,
“It is time to leave what holds you back,
“It is time to stop serving what is no longer true.
“I will take you out,
“I will deliver you,
“I will call you present,
“I will bring you into relationship with the Unfolding of All Life.
“So much is unknown, fragile and frightening.
“We harden our hearts.
“We resolve to stay in the narrow places.
“And the Mystery calls:
“I take you out into the expanse, I deliver You, because I desire You” (Psalm 18:20).
When our lives overwhelm us and we desperately wish to change, we must remember that this is our mitzrayim … our narrow bridge.
There are no guarantees in our journey through life, no way to predict which way things will go.
But there is the knowledge that we have a divine spark within that can guide us if we wish to break free of that which holds us back.
The story of Passover is the story of how God redeemed us and brought us out of Egypt so that we could live our lives as we were meant, with courage, compassion, kindness and love.
Though it sometimes takes strength to break free from our own mitzrayim, above all we must not be afraid, not be afraid at all.
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected] olympus.net.