Passover, Toulouse, Trayvon & Shaima

The WORD – 3/29/12.  I know, I know – the first Seder is only 8 days away and I should be talking about Passover.  But, I can’t.  Every time I go to write about hametz or the four cups, my mind wanders off to thoughts of the senseless shooting in Toulouse, the killing of Trayvon Martin or the beating death of Shaima Alawadi in her San Diego home.

Although I should no longer be surprised by one human being’s ability to treat another human being in a sub-human fashion, I still find these events from recent weeks shocking.  And so, as much as I like discussing the minutiae of Passover, I can’t help thinking about the devaluation of human life which these tragedies represent.  But, the truth is – THAT is also the message of Passover.

The story of Passover begins with God summoning Moses to the Burning Bush and saying, “’I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains (Exodus 3:7).”  God recognized that one group of human beings was dehumanizing another, that human beings were suffering and that human life was not being valued.  And so God called out to Moses do something.  That something, of course, was the Exodus from Egypt that we will celebrate beginning next Friday night.

God needed a human partner in order to lift up those who were being oppressed.  They were not able to speak up for themselves and be heard.

Passover should not only be about the freeing of those slaves all those centuries ago.  It should also be about the way we treat our fellow human beings today.  I remember back in the 70’s we added a prayer for Soviet Jews because they were being oppressed.  In recent years, the Cup of Miriam has been added to the liturgy to reflect the move toward egalitarianism for women in progressive Judaism.  We have always applied the principles of Passover to modern situations.

Whether we are talking about seven Jews in France, an African-American teen in Florida or a Muslim woman in California, Passover challenges us to remember that every human being has value.  Are we satisfied with simply reciting the words of a liturgy year after year or do we want to put the lessons of that liturgy into practice?

If we are serious about implementing the values of redemption, justice and freedom which are so central to the celebration of Passover, then we must speak out when we are outraged by senseless acts of violence.  We must be as concerned with the dehumanization of people in the year 2012 as we are about a group of slaves from over 3,000 years ago.

People of conscience in France must address the issue of anti-Semitism there just as we must deal with racism and Islamophobia here in the US.  We cannot tolerate the devaluation of whole groups of people just because of the way they look or the way they pray.  We know too well the consequences of such senseless hatred.

So, this Passover, as we celebrate the redemption of our ancestors so many years ago, let us also contemplate the ways in which we can bring about redemption here and now.



About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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