The First Passover, Then and Now

The Sages distinguish between two Passover celebrations — the first one, called Pesach Mitzrayim, the Passover of Egypt, and every other Passover celebration after that one, known as Pesach Dorot, the Passover of subsequent generations. While many distinctions can be made between the two, none strike me as more powerful or more needed — especially since October 7th, and even more especially since this past Saturday, when 300 missiles and killer drones were launched on Israel by Iran — than this one: Pesach Mitzrayim was celebrated while we were still enslaved!

The first Passover embodied what President Obama called the audacity of hope — the willingness to live our aspirations even when life gives us so many reasons not to do so. Those ancient Israelites gathered in their slaves’ quarters some 3,200 years ago had almost innumerable reasons not to trust that they would be going free the next morning, and yet they celebrated their impending exodus.

Moses and Aaron had pulled off some neat tricks to wow the Egyptians, to be sure, and Pharaoh had made some promises, but such promises had been repeatedly broken. Not to mention that after hundreds of years in slavery, how could they really trust that tomorrow would be different than today? The answer lies in a single word: hope.

The Israelites celebrating Pesach Mitzrayim dared to hope that tomorrow need not be another version of today, even when so many facts suggested otherwise. That kind of hope is entirely different from naïveté, which is foolish at best and dangerous at worst. That kind of hope does not pretend about the challenges that exist or pretend about the past. It appreciates it all, and it also insists that if we look more closely, think with some humility, and dare to live a bit boldly tomorrow can be different.

It’s the kind of hope that starts with small acts that build upon one another, like Moses originally asking Pharaoh, not for the full liberation of the slaves but for a few days of rest and religious freedom. It’s the kind of hope that wakes up the morning after an unprecedented attack and asks, what can we do to make things a little better, without pretending that there is a known solution to the whole problem, even if we could all agree about what “the problem” is?

This Passover, one of the few things that most Jews seem to agree about is that we are in a tight spot — which is literally what the word Mitzrayim — Egypt — means in Hebrew, even if we don’t all agree about what that tight spot is. So this year, let us return to that first Passover and practice the audacity of living, hopefully, asking for the seemingly smaller things that are in our control and through which we might move into a brighter tomorrow. That is the spirit in which this year’s Passover card, seen immediately below, was created, and that is the spirit with which I hope we all gather at this time.



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