We live in a world of duality where there are pairs to everything. Our earth, indeed our universe exists as a seeming collection of opposites. It is persistent and especially so at this season during which we experience both darkness and light, decline and renewal, and suffering and hope. “We often need the lack of something to truly appreciate its value. What would light mean to us without the experience of darkness? What would innocence mean to us without the experience of wisdom? What would liberation or freedom mean to us without bondage or slavery?” said Rabbi Gershon Alpert.
So as we sit around our seder tables, let us consider yet one more duality. Passover commemorates the Israelites journey from slavery to redemption – to become a people. We tell the amazing story of that happened over thirty-three hundred years ago, when we rose up, and with the help from the Divine we were freed – history’s first emancipation movement. That act challenged the status quo and asserted that freedom, justice and peoplehood were both sacrosanct and achievable. Before the book, we had stories – and a powerful oral tradition that conveyed those narratives. At Passover each year we reaffirm our connection to the past as each year we recite: “to remember the exodus as if we ourselves were enslaved, and we went out to freedom and were redeemed.” And today, we still retell this miraculous story of our exodus and redemption as a free people.
And so, just as we are asked to remember the Exodus each year, we are reminded at least 36 other times during the year to remember that we were “once strangers in a stranger land” and to treat the ‘stranger’ among us with that consciousness. In Leviticus Chapter 19, Verse 34, we are told:”When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
However consider how we begin our seders: Ayleh shebechol dor va’dor, Omdeem Aleinu L’Chaloteinu! In Every Generation there are those who Rise Up Against Us and Seek to Destroy Us.
What’s amazing is that this was written sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE, long before the Crusades, the pogroms, or the Holocaust. How prescient that phrase appears when we consider our history. From the Pharaohs to the Philistines, Nebuchadnezzar to Haman, the Greek-Assyrians to Titus and the Romans, the Crusaders, Torquemada and the Inquisition, the Cossacks, Hitler and all the way up to Ahmadinejad, Hamas & Hezbollah, people have sought to destroy us because we are Jews.
And, today we are witnessing the ugly emergence of anti-Semitism in our beloved United States. While we have indeed persevered, survived, empowered ourselves and prospered and maintained continuity to our ancestors in Egypt, we are still taught to “welcome the stranger for we were once strangers in a strange land.”
It is the greatness of our tradition that reminds us that even in the face of those threats, we must find ways to reassert our humanity and never lose sight of this central tenet of our faith: To act morally towards the ‘Other.’
Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.