Two days ago, an Uber driver honked and yelled at the driver of a double parked car in NYC. It turns out that driver was a police officer in an unmarked car. The officer responded by pulling over the Uber driver, yelling at him in an insulting fashion and issuing him a summons. His rant included some rude language about the fact that the driver had only been in this country for two years. Unbeknownst to the officer, the passenger in the backseat recorded most of the encounter. The video has now been watched by nearly two million viewers. He is just one officer; he is NOT all officers. However, he is a person with authority treating a newcomer to our country badly.
This came on the heels of Indiana enacting a law which would make it legal for private businesses to use their personal religious convictions as justification for discriminating against potential customers based on sexual orientation. It appears that the Indiana legislature is considering some changes to that law based on the negative reaction across the country which has done damage to the state’s reputation.
What do these two incidents have in common?
They are both examples of people in positions of authority using the law and their power to hold others down rather than lift them up. It is the exact opposite of what we’d expect from such people. It is the exact opposite of the message of Passover.
Tomorrow night, over 90% of Jews – along with many of our non-Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives whom we invite to join us – will sit down for a Passover Seder. We will re-tell the story of the Exodus as Jews have done centuries. Perhaps the oldest part of the Seder is the recitation of four Biblical verses (Deuteronomy 26:5-8) which briefly encapsulate the entire story:
You shall speak and say before Adonai your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried unto Adonai, the God of our ancestors, and Adonai heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And Adonai brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.
In other words, we have been on the receiving end of abuse by people in positions of power. And, unfortunately, we know that the story of Passover was NOT the last time it happened either.
Over the years, we have added readings to our Passover Seders to apply the lessons learned from Passover to modern situations. If you look back at old Haggadahs and pamphlets, you’ll find: the 5th Child of the Holocaust, the 5th Cup for the State of Israel, the Matzah of Hope for Soviet Jews, the 4th Matzah to eradicate modern-day slavery, Miriam’s Cup to acknowledge women’s leadership and I could go on. The point of all of these additions is to remember that when we have power and authority, we have an obligation to raise up the oppressed, persecuted and excluded. When those who are in power forget that obligation, we must remind them.
So, when we see modern-day examples of people misusing their power, we must speak up. When we ourselves are in positions of power, we must remember the lesson of Passover. When that lesson is forgotten, we start down the path that leads us further away from freedom.
Jodi and the kids join me in wishing you a wonderful Passover holiday.