The joy and obligation of Passover

Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Passover (Pesach) begins each year on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. Passover is the first of three major festivals with both historic and agricultural significance. Agriculturally it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel. However, the primary observance of Passover is related to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt after generations of slavery. The story (which is read from the Haggadah) is told each year during the Seder (which, translated, means "order"). In Jewish homes all over the world the Passover Seder is a time to come together with family and community to celebrate, to remember our ancestors and our commitment to them and to Israel, and to look ahead.

This retelling of the exodus, what led up to it, and what happened because of it instills in us the fabric of our collective conscience. We are reminded of our responsibility to care for the weak, to lead people from adversity, to rescue the oppressed, the feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and to care for the weakest who have no one to speak for them or care for them. We are reminded that during our celebration of the joy of liberation and the emergence from slavery to freedom, comes the obligation to never forget the pain of oppression and the feelings of being a captive. While we recount the insidious nature of slavery, we are required to remember that none of us are free until all people are free.

Rabbi Naomi Levy, of the American Jewish World Service, wrote the following Passover prayer for overcoming indifference. "I watch the news and observe from a comfortable distance. I see people suffering and I don't lift a finger to help them. I condemn injustice but I do nothing to fight against it. I am pained by the faces of starving children, but I am not moved enough to try to save them. I step over homeless people in the street, I walk past outstretched hands, and I avert my eyes. I close my heart.

Wake me up G-d, ignite my passion, and fill me with outrage at these injustices. Remind me that I am responsible for Your world. Forgive me G-d for remaining aloof while others are in need of assistance. Don't allow me to stand idly by. Inspire me to act. Teach me to believe I can repair some corner of the world. When I despair, fill me with hope. When I doubt, fill me with faith, When I am weary, renew my spirit. When I lose my way, show me the way back to meaning and to compassion, back to You.

For all of the joy Passover brings, there is the expectation and the requirement to actively engage in Tikkun Olam (the repair and healing of the world) for our sake and for the sake of all humankind. According to Elie Wiesel, "To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all".

• Chava Lee is a member of the board of the Juneau Jewish Community.

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