Passover is sweeter when we celebrate our freedoms

Passover Greetings for 5781! And also a very happy Easter to my friends and loved ones celebrating that holiday. The Spring Equinox* is nothing to sneeze at, either, except, maybe, for the allergies, a little.

May spring offer hope, renewal, and joyous freedom to everyone reading this post.

You can gauge the season in my home by the drift of matzah crumbs across the kitchen floor. Note to those new to a cracker-based diet: no, it is never a wise idea to eat matzah without a plate for catching the inevitable crumbs. Don’t let my husband or children tell you otherwise!Passover Pesach matzah

In 2021, I found myself rueful that yet another פֶסַח Pesach would be celebrated without guests or even family. Due to necessary medical appointments, we were socially if not spiritually distanced even from my in-laws who live downstairs within our home as this holiday commenced.

Yet, still, we had so much for which to be grateful.

Chief among all blessings, the festival of liberation from bondage reminds me annually of my husband’s exodus from an oppressive regime which persecuted his family for its Jewish heritage. Thank God for a United States of America welcoming refugees! My husband, his beloved parents, and his grandmother z”l all benefited from that largess.

Anyone familiar with DH’s academic record knows how the USA benefits, in turn, from his ground-breaking scholarship in—and beyond—the natural sciences. Certainly, IMHO, the likelihood of international fame ought not be a prerequisite for offering refuge to “your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”** And yet, time and again, immigrants such as my husband prove their worth far beyond such beleaguered beginnings.

Cover of Richard Codor's Joyous Haggadah book

I hope that not a day goes by when I do not thank God for the blessing of my husband’s freedom, but I thank Passover for the fact that a year never could. The Haggadah—the story of Passover related by Jews at a סֵדֶר seder or order of telling—includes the answer, “It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt” to the question asked by a child who can’t even formulate a question about what the holiday means.

“It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt.”

I must admit to not being particularly literal in my general understanding of the Torah. I believe God gave us a legacy of poetry, using metaphor to offer millennia’s worth of new understandings of the same old words, letting scripture rise to the occasion of ever-evolving human capacity.

And yet… in this case, I take scripture fairly literally. It is, frankly, because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt that everything else in my life carries so many of its multitudes of meaning.

That Egypt is a metaphor, yes. But, from where I sit, “Egypt” is a place I was, yet here I am, free.

Compared with 2020, I gave thanks in 2021 for plenty of capacity at the stores to get groceries delivered, and no shortages of either mundane or ritual items we needed for our seder.

At this time of year, in addition to counting my blessings, I am inclined to count my freedoms. The liturgy of the season Deuteronomy (26:5–8) includes the phrase:

God took us from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”Bible open to show Deuteronomy 26:1-5 on the page

Bible open to show Deuteronomy 26:5-8 on the pageUnderstanding the mighty/strong hand tends to be trivial. God is mighty; God is great. Translation doesn’t dilute this understanding much, in my experience.

The outstretched arm is, perhaps, less obvious, but sometimes more compelling, at least, to me.

You can find Jewish scholarship on the topic of the strong hand and outstretched arm all over the internet. But here’s what that extended arm means to me.

The outstretched arm reminds me of my obligation—always!— to reach out to the wider world. I believe I must use my personal freedom as a tool to work toward the liberation of others. At my seder, I can’t help but reflect upon current events. This year, that included paying attention to the illegal coup taking place in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

The New York Times reports that:

“Ten days after seizing power in Myanmar, the generals issued their first command to journalists: Stop using the words “coup,” “regime” and “junta” to describe the military’s takeover of the government. ”

When that didn’t work, the military junta that staged the coup in Myanmar—overthrowing the legitimate, democratically elected government—arrested more than 50 journalists for continuing to report the truth.

I wish I could do more than thumb my nose at these tyrants by defying their chosen vocabulary. This is the small strength of my individual hand, however, so that’s the little bit of power I will wield today.

Page view from Haggadah describing The Simple Child

After mentioning this outrage against human dignity, I’m also inspired to consider the question: Which child of the Passover seder am I aping, as I ask?

The Pesach Haggadah prompts us to answer questions about our liberation from slavery in Egypt for the benefit of four children: the one who is wise, a wicked child, a simple son, and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask what s/he needs to know.

Modernity offers most of us instant connections across the globe, yet few of us seem blessed with the wisdom to use what should probably be considered a superpower to its utmost. Staring at the atrocities in Myanmar, I wonder if I’m the child who can’t even formulate a sensible question.

Who should determine the form of government of any nation? Am I remiss in assuming the majority’s opinion offers the critical vote?

What is our obligation, as outsiders, to support those agitating and risking their lives in hopes of bringing democracy to a nation? Is it enough when I simply simply ponder their fate?

When are we called upon to act as opposed to bearing witness? How many civilians must a military coup murder before free people of the world feel obligated to take action?

Where should I draw the line between my own liberation and that of another oppressed person?

Why have I been blessed with so much more freedom than the people of Myanmar?

How can I make the world better given my limited strength and resources?

In this spring of optimism across the developed world as a pandemic God willing wanes, I hope those of us living in the bosom of privilege, safety, and freedom from want can provide some sort of meaningful support for those in  Myanmar and elsewhere living beneath a cloak of oppression.

* With a special nod to the pagan holiday of Ostara, aka Eostre, from which Christian Easter stole borrowed what it needed to convert the masses. Please note, friend Christians, that I don’t think Jesus himself is in any way incriminated in this wholesale holiday obfuscation. The social history is pretty fascinating, however, to a nerd like myself.

Hebrew acronym for zikhronah livrakha, meaning “May her memory be a blessing.” Read more about this Jewish acronym at My Jewish Learning dot com.

** Excerpted from Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus, as etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Here’s one rabbi’s thought on understanding how translation affects a well known, widely “understood” passage such as the one I’ve quoted here.

Evangelical Christians trample my religious freedom by applying their convictions to all in the abortion debate

The abortion debate in America is a contentious one that I have no interest in rehashing here. While I have many thoughts and opinions on the issue, most of them fall outside of the kind of rational discussion I prefer to instigate on my little site dedicated to the wonderful as opposed to the profane.

Something I cannot ignore of late are the actions of multiple states—tellingly, states which tend to be poorer than the U.S. average with a markedly less educated populace—as they defy the moderate will of the majority of American citizens and the affirmed constitutional right of individual Americans to follow their own faiths and consciences with regard to abortion procedures.

Activists at the extreme of both sides pervert this complex and morally fraught issue by ignoring subtleties and braying out absolutes and ultimatums. I reject those dangerous simplifications from both the right and left. Most Americans believe that some abortions should be safe and legal. Less than half of Americans support either a total ban or the complete freedom to terminate any pregnancy.

In particular, as a Jewish woman, I find it offensive that conservative Christians are promoting their religious beliefs in the political arena with a total disregard for the separation of church and state.

This separation, of course, is another freedom guaranteed to each of us by the Constitution.

The actors on these Supreme Court defying laws like to portray themselves as sole legitimate arbiters of God’s will. Upon signing the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in America, Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama issued a statement that she did so because “every life is a sacred gift from God.” Of course, with no exceptions in the Alabama bill for survivors of horrific crimes against girls no matter how young or women whether competent to consent or not who become pregnant, it’s obvious that Governor Ivey feels some lives are more sacred than others, and that it is her place to judge such matters.

Jewish law argues that a mother’s life must be saved at the expense of a fetus if the parent is in danger and the process of childbirth has not yet begun. “[T]he life of those already living comes before the life of those yet to be born.”Jewish law also recognizes the mental health of the mother as a vital factor in making the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Other faiths advise their adherents differently.

It is evangelizing pure and simple for this kind of dictatorial Christian to attempt to subvert my religion with her own when it comes to my family’s medical decision making.

There are suppositions about the moment that “life” begins, but no definitive answers from science yet to trump matters of faith and belief. We may someday know when the spark of animation—or the soul—enters the bundle of cells that grow into living flesh. We do not know now beyond a general range of viability dates for human babies.

From my perspective, it would be wise for people who value unborn lives above those of living women to invest heavily in the technological leap of gestating fetuses outside the womb. If it were possible to “harvest” unwanted pregnancies and nurture them elsewhere, some of the moral quandaries would change if not diminish. Certainly at that point those with the most extreme viewpoints on the subject of abortion could offer to save every unwanted child and assume the costs—financial, social, and emotional—thereof.

https://theawarenesscenter.blogspot.com/2011/02/incest-pregnancy-abortion-and-halacha.html