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Pesach Reflection 2011

Apr 09, 2011 — Categories: ,

by Rabbi Cindy G. Enger

Toward the beginning of the book of Exodus in the Torah, Moses—while tending the flock of his father-in-law, Yitro—pauses from his activities in order to pay attention to the extraordinary presence of a bush all aflame but unconsumed by the fire. God speaks to Moses from the burning bush and calls Moses to return to Egypt to participate directly in the process of liberation, to lead the Israelite people out from that land.

Reluctant to step into this leadership role, Moses tells God that the Israelites are going to want to know the name of the God who sent him. In the Bible, one’s name is significant, revealing one’s essence and deep-level identity. “Tell me, God,” says Moses, “so I can tell the Israelites; what is Your name?” God responds to Moses, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh; tell the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.’”

Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh is often translated as “I am who/that I am.” But the verb “to be” conjugated and stated in this way can mean many things, among the possibilities: “I am who I am becoming,” “I am becoming who I will be,” “I will be who I am becoming,” “I will be who I am,” “I am who I will be.” The God who sends Moses back to Egypt to be an agent of change and a leader of liberation is a God of change and becoming, a God of process and possibility. We might even say that process, change and becoming are the very nature of what/who God is.

Moses returns to Egypt and speaks to the Israelite people of God’s promises of freedom and redemption. But the Israelites could not hear Moses because their spirits were crushed due to long-term oppression and hard, difficult servitude and labor. The Israelite people could not believe they could possibly be free. Neither God as change nor their own capacity to experience liberating change was yet part of their internalized vision of faith. That journey and revelation still lay before them.

But it is here, in a constricted, crushed-spirit place, that the Torah begins its telling of the dramatic unfolding of the Exodus from Egypt. This story of the Exodus from Egypt is the archetypal model of redemption for the Jewish people. In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is mitzrayim, which means narrow straits, places of constriction. The journey to freedom involves the transformative process of moving from the narrow place, the constricted space, out into the openness of the desert, the uncharted wilderness terrain that is both uncertain and also full of possibility. This journey to freedom is the universal human process of opening the heart. It calls for awareness of the truth of our experience as well as tremendous courage and compassion toward the process of change.

On Pesach/Passover each year, we Jews not only remember but also retell the story of the Exodus in such a way that we may feel as if we were redeemed from Egypt. In preparation for Pesach, we not only clean out our physical hametz, leavened bread and all related food items that we refrain from eating for the eight days of Pesach, but we also are encouraged to pay attention to the current state of our existential condition. In what ways are our hearts hardened, our spirits constricted, our bodies and souls yearning to dance with liberation, to experience what it is to be free? Are we paying attention to human suffering in our own communities and all around the world? Are we agents of fear and constriction or leaders committed to possibility and compassion in support of our own and other persons’ processes of courageous liberation and change?

Among the many teachings of the springtime festival of Pesach is the reminder that as human beings, our hearts can constrict in the presence of felt danger. Our hearts can constrict when we feel hurt or feel pain. Our hearts can constrict when we fear change or sense scarcity or abandonment. Our hearts can constrict for so many reasons. The heart’s constriction causes us and other human beings much suffering and great pain.

But there is another way. The invitation of Pesach, the Jewish people’s festival of freedom, is to open our hearts, to be truthful and generous, and to act with compassion. The call of Pesach is to step forward with courage, to cross the sea from known places of constriction and into new, uncharted terrains of choice and possibility. Pesach invites us to dance together in celebration of actual liberation as well as the as yet inchoate possibilities of ourselves and all humanity one day becoming free.

For survivors of abuse and for those working with human beings faced with the challenges of becoming free, Pesach is a reminder that liberation begins with truthful recognition of our hearts’ longings, of the places we are stuck and constricted, and of the step-by-step, courageous process of becoming free. Each year on Pesach, we are invited to journey together in community—women, men and children—committed to our own and each others’ capacity for healing and redemption, each one of us created in God’s image, that divine spark that in name and essence is possibility, process, and change.

This is the time of our liberation. May it be a season of rebirth and renewal. Amen.

Rabbi Cindy G. Enger

Affiliated with the Reform Movement of Judaism, Rabbi Enger is currently the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Bellingham, WA. She formerly directed the Jewish Program at FaithTrust Institute and edited A Journey Towards Freedom: A Haggadah for Women Who Have Experienced Domestic Violence.

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