Passover for People of All Faiths
By John Graham
March 29th, 2013
During Holy Week, I asked Rabbi Roy Walter, Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation El Emannuel, and a member of our Board of Trustees, to write an essay about the universal meaning of the Feast Passover for people of all faiths. Within minutes he sent me this powerful essay saying: “There are so many universal values captured by the story of Passover, values that help us see more clearly our relationship with God and with each other. I share with you three:
One of the original proposals for the Seal of the United States of America was a depiction of Moses leading the People of Israel through the parted sea just after they left Egypt. For generations, “Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, tell old Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go,” was the theme song of the African American slaves. Lesson one is clear: freedom is a God-given right. The story of the exodus inspires any and all who suffer despotic enslavement. It is the story of the Jewish people some 3000 years ago, but it is the story of everyone who would be free.
Second, recall that in the Egyptian religion, Pharaoh is a god. When Moses goes to Pharaoh and demands that he release the People of Israel, he doesn’t just say in the name of God, “Let My people go.” He says, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” In Hebrew, as in most languages, nouns are derived from verbs. In Hebrew the noun ‘serve’ can mean ‘slave’ or it can mean ‘servant.’ The implication in this instance is clear. God is saying, “My people are serving Pharaoh, a god of Egypt, as slaves; I demand that he release them, so that they can serve Me as a free people.” No one should be enslaved, especially in the name of religion. That was the theme underlying our American forebears thought about placing the exodus on the seal of the US, and it’s the theme underlying “Go down, Moses.” Lesson two: any claim in the name of religion that God would have us be enslaved is a betrayal of everything God wants for us.
Finally, the rabbis, in their commentary on Exodus 15, reinforce the idea that we are all children of God. They chastise the People of Israel for rejoicing in the death of the Egyptian army as the seawalls collapsed. In the midrash (parable), God says to the Israelites, “My children are dying and you rejoice?” It’s one thing to celebrate your victory; it’s another to rejoice that human beings have died in the process, even if they are your enemy. Lesson three: we are all equal in the eyes of God. From the worst of us to the best of us, there is something about each of us that is divine and should be respected.
These are but three among a myriad lessons of Passover. That is why we Jews gather annually to tell and retell the story. For as the rabbis remind us, no matter how many times we tell it and hear it, there are always more lessons to be learned. While it is our story, it is everyone’s story of freedom, of divine expectation, and of human dignity.”
Powerful understanding from one of our long time members of the Board of Trustees at ISH. I hope you enjoyed reading what Rabbi Walter had to say. I know I was blessed by his comments and the wisdom these three concepts contain.