Pesach: Time to reclaim our Jewish identity
This Pesach we must reflect on what we left behind in Egypt, and what we received after the Exodus. Most of us know the story, but let’s consider something besides slavery and freedom, submission and independence, alienation and identity.
Our sages call Egypt and Israel two opposed levels of consciousness that are not supposed to coexist together. They remark that living in Egypt under Pharaoh’s rule was an aberration.
Our oral tradition points out that Egyptian society was the most abject and depraved in ancient times. The children of Israel not only lived in that nation, but also were slaves there. In the eyes of the neighboring nations, Israelites lived in the lowest realm of human condition. It also seemed impossible to escape slavery under the rulers of the nation believed to be the most powerful in those times.
Our sages also indicate that, precisely this was the kind of reality God chose in order to make the entire world aware of His preference for the children of Israel. The stone that the builders despised became the keystone. God made it that way, and this is something the nations can’t question or reject. It’s God’s will.
Under these circumstances, the Creator of all fulfilled the promise He made to the Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus the dramatic events that occurred were not only aimed at the liberation of Israel, but a clear and sound message to the world regarding God’s will. The plagues and the Exodus were the preamble to the culmination of such message that is the Torah.
The Torah brings the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, false and true, useful and useless, etc. The Torah delineates the ethical principles the Creator wants to make prevail in humankind, and Israel the chosen people to convey such message. In this context we must assimilate the transcendental meaning of our liberation from slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh.
The destruction of the most powerful nation of its time is the premise for the Jewish identity. Hence God commands the people of Israel to remember this everyday, for it is part of who we are. Likewise, we must assimilate that our Exodus from Egypt also implies our rejection of what Egypt represents in human consciousness.
The most emblematic symbol of Egypt is the pyramid, and most of us also know what it represents, besides being the tomb of one of the Pharaohs. As a grave, the pyramid represents death, which was the main worship in ancient Egypt, the cult of death. Thus we realize one of the reasons that Israel is the opposite of Egypt.
Let’s reflect on the other meaning of the pyramid. Karl Marx used the pyramid model to expose the divisions between classes, and the “levels” that determine the conflicts and contradictions that according to him generate “class struggles” which eventually lead to revolutions aimed to pursue and establish “equality” among the people. Since ancient times, the pyramid model has ruled in most of the peoples and nations in the world, and we may call it here the “mindset” of the goyim (usually translated as “nations”).
God asked Moses to request permission from Pharaoh to let the children of Israel leave Egypt for a chag (usually translated as “holiday”, but literally means “to circle” or “encircle”) in the desert dedicated to their God, HaShem. This word makes us understand that the God of Israel wants His people to encircle around Him, not below Him.
God does not want the pyramid model to rule this world, but the circle model. The people of Israel lived and experienced it in their journeys throughout the desert during 40 years. God was in the center (the tabernacle), and the people surrounded Him.
Some may argue that there were also levels and divisions among the children of Israel after the Exodus. Neither levels or divisions, but different functions according to the kind of nation and society God delineates for Israel in the Torah.
The people of Israel are inherently diverse, hence twelve tribes with distinct traits, qualities and talents, all commanded by God to be “united together” to serve God’s will.
In Judaism there is no difference between a water carrier, a wood gatherer, a judge, a priest, a warrior, an artist, a leader, a farmer, etc. All are equally important in the harmonic functional unity that Israel is commanded to be, have and manifest.
Our differences are not meant to separate us but to unite us, in contrast to other nations. Unfortunately throughout our history, the Jewish people have rather chosen to emulate the pyramid model of the nations than the circle our Torah wants us to live in. It is a matter of identity, for we choose who we want to be with the free will God gave us.
This takes us to one of God’s propositions to us, regarding making choices. The blessing and the curse. The blessing as life and the curse as death, and He commands us to choose life. Hence we are the people who choose life over the death preached and worshiped in ancient Egypt, and also in our times under the rule of Islamofacists.
Let’s gather together united once more this coming Pesach as we did after our liberation from slavery in Egypt. Let’s rejoice encircling our God, and celebrate the identity He gave us by honoring our heritage. Let’s tell our children again who we are, from Whom we come from, and the destine we must fulfill together united.