Rabbi Cassi Kail
Passover is my favorite holiday. It isn’t the matzah ball soup or haroset that I most look forward to (though they are delicious).
Instead, it is the way we gather around a table each year (virtual or in-person) and tell the story of our people. Tradition requires even the most knowledgeable scholars to review the narrative. It isn’t enough to know the story; we must relive it. The Haggadah teaches, “In every generation, one is obligated to see oneself as one who personally went out of Egypt.” We must recognize that the Exodus is not a story; it is our story.
The Haggadah invites us to put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors. Once friends of the Egyptians, we turned into enemies overnight. We recall the hardship placed on our people, forbidding us from worship, subjecting us to harsh labor, violence, and even death. We remember what it felt like to be dehumanized and oppressed and how difficult it was for Moses to stand up to Pharaoh and fight for his people.
Although less emphasized by the Haggadah, the story also encourages us to pay attention to the evolution of Pharaoh’s hatred. Under Joseph’s leadership, the Jews and Egyptians had a positive relationship. The groups lived side by side in peace until “a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) It is ridiculous to think that this new Pharaoh hadn’t heard of Joseph’s leadership during Egypt’s famine. Rather, the new Pharaoh acted as if he did not know the Hebrew ancestor, Joseph. At this moment, the Pharaoh chose to disassociate the Hebrews from Joseph. He stopped seeing the humanity within our people, and a foundation of fear and hatred began to take hold. Once Pharaoh did this, and once his people followed him, the Hebrew’s mistreatment was almost inevitable.
On Passover, we connect to our inner Moses or Miriam. We associate with the courage of our ancestors, who dared to stand up to Pharaoh, to hold out hope for a better future, and to take an enormous risk in ultimately marching towards freedom. So too must we examine our inner Pharaoh. Who of us has not generalized the thoughts and behaviors of any given group? Who of us has not internalized the systemic racism that surrounds us each day? Just as we celebrate our freedom on Passover, so too must we be on guard against any racism, Islamophobia, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism, and xenophobia that exists within our souls. This Passover, let us recommit to the hard work of confronting the Pharaohs within our souls. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “No one is free until we all are free.”