“Holy Moses, let us live in peace, let us strive to find a way to make all hatred cease,” sang Elton John in 1970 in his hit, “Border Song,” inadvertently releasing it right around Passover. We were all much younger then, with darker hair, slimmer waistlines, and blissful ignorance of the future. Forty-five years after the release of this song, this coming Passover calls for some serious introspection as to what Moses and Pharaoh mean to us, today.
Tradition has it that on Passover, every father must tell his son the story of Moses, Pharaoh, and the exodus from Egypt, so that the story will not be forgotten. But is it really that important that we remember what happened there? Why are we not commanded to tell the story of Noah’s ark each year, or Adam and Eve, or the tying of Isaac?
We can view the Torah stories as historical events, but we can and should look at the deeper level that they offer us, as well. Although it is not Rosh Hashanah (beginning of the year), Nisan is the rosh hodashim (prime/first month). In Hebrew, the word hodesh (month) comes from the Hebrew word hidush (renewal). A new month represents the beginning of a new stage. As with Purim, at the height of the month, right in the middle, a dramatic shift unfolds.
The exodus from Egypt represents an internal escape from hatred of others, otherwise known as the “evil inclination,” to (gradually achieving) the state of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Passover happening on the first month means that it is the beginning of the process of escaping the ego. The culmination of the process happens on the last month, Iyar, when we celebrate the last and highest ascent above the ego, as described in the Purim story (see my previous posts on the topic). After Adar comes Nisan and a new year begins. This is the reason for the Hebrew word for “year,” shanah, from the word shoneh (repeating).
The great 12th century scholar, Maimonides, wrote in a letter to his son: “You should know, my son, that Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is indeed the evil inclination,” meaning exaggerated egoism, which wants only to benefit itself, with no regard for others. We begin the process of our ascent above the ego on Passover, when we pass-over from the ego-minded state to the giving-minded state. The crossing of Yam Suf (the Red Sea) represents the transition, as the word Suf actually means Sof (end) of the ego and beginning of the desert, where we walk toward the first commitment to unity, at the foot of Mount Sinai, and the establishment of a nation built on love of others.
Like all Jewish festivals, Passover is full of symbolism. The vessels of silver and gold that the Hebrew women borrow from their Egyptian landladies represent uncorrected desires, which are still self-centered, but which Israel will take along and transform into desires that aim to give pleasure rather than receive it.
But all of these corrections can begin only after we become a nation, once we pledge to be “as one man with one heart” at the foot of Mount Sinai. The word, Sinai, comes from the word Sinaah (hatred), and Moses’ climb up the mountain represents climbing above the hatred of others.
Today, each of us must be a little more like Moses, and a little less like Pharaoh. Especially after the elections, Jews around the world are divided both within communities and even within families. Now is the time to make amends and unite above the differences between us, and no time is better than Passover—the most significant festival of the year for Jewish families. We must not rebuke one another or prove each other wrong. This will never yield unity. Even if we win an argument with someone contesting our view, we will have lost that someone’s heart. Instead of trying to out-vocalize one another, we should relate to the division between us as a mountain we must all climb, and at the top of which we can unite.
Just as both negative and positive electric charges are necessary in order to create the electric power that makes modern life possible, contradictions between us are necessary in order to make modern culture possible. Advancement of any kind would not be possible were it not for debates. But today our egos are so sensitive that we immediately take personal offence when someone challenges our view. The only solution to this is to approach people with a premeditated intention to unite, and accept that we will use whatever happens between us to enhance that unity.
Our world, nature, and the whole of reality do not consist of separate entities. Existence is a mesh of forces and elements that coexist in an interconnected and interdependent system. When we teach ourselves by intending to unite how we, too, can tap into that system, we will discover that we are not positive or negative charges, but are a single electric current giving vitality and warmth to everyone around us.
This Passover, “let us strive to find a way to make all hatred cease,” as Sir Elton John, sang. Let us pass over from a narrow perspective to an inclusive one, containing all and embracing all. By that, we will exit our inner Egypt, the land of the ego, and begin to march toward our inner Mt. Sinai, where we become a nation once again.