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April 8, 2016  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Pesach 5776 – Out of the narrow places

By RABBI MICHAEL TOROP Temple Beth-El, St Petersburg

Each of us knows hardship or distress in varying degrees during our lives. It is something we all share in common. Yet, when facing our own personal trials we can feel as though we are alone and forsaken.

In Judaism, Mitzrayim (Egypt) is a metaphor for every human encounter, not just with oppression or persecution, but any kind of limitation on our freedom, our joy, our sense of wellbeing. Mitzrayim means the place of restriction, a cramped and narrow place, literally “the straits” through which we all must, at some point, pass.

In every community there are so many journeys out of Mitzrayim. Some of those journeys are longer than others, and many still are not yet able to dance with the joy of Miriam and Moses and the Israelites on the far side of the sea, knowing the promise of what lies ahead. Let us pause this year during our celebration of Pesach and consider the stories of modern journeys out of personal instances of Mitzrayim afflicting our Jewish community, even though we like to think it does not.

These experiences of Mitzrayim can include the death of a loved one, sudden illnesses and chronic pain, family violence, sexual abuse, infidelity, divorce, addictions of all kinds (drug, alcohol, gambling, sex), crime, mental health concerns, gender identity issues, job losses, economic troubles, infertility, credit card debts, business failures, wounded feelings and wounded pride, careers gone off-track, election defeats, or even losing a heated competition.

Life can be hard, and sometimes unforgiving. And when each of us feels bound up, constrained by our own experience of Mitzrayim, it is so easy to give up, to lose hope, to suffer a crisis of faith, to remain trapped, feeling that even if we could cry out from the depths of our despair, no one would hear or answer the call.

Nevertheless, each year, we sit down at the Seder table to relive and retell the biblical story of the Exodus because it can open up the narrow place where we are trapped and can lead us toward the wilderness of possibility and a future vision of peace and tranquility. We do this not just so that in each and every generation we can see ourselves as personally having come forth mi-Mitzrayim, out of biblical hardship and bondage, but in order to find solidarity with others in the painful times of our lives today and to discover the powerful healing potential of journeying together into hope, joy and the blessing of God’s presence.

Emerging out of the place of narrowness, or restriction, out of the straits or distress, is the Jewish story of redemption. We have an enduring “spiritual” association with Israel’s redemptive experience. Mitzrayim thus becomes both the symbol and the experience of captivity, of being caught/bound in narrow place(s), and our symbol of deliverance.

For mi-Mitzrayim, out of the narrow places in our lives, we can cry out and be heard by God and by God’s partners who surround us. We can remember that hope is possible, and that Divine redemption can be our future as well. This year at our Pesach tables, may we all hear the voices of those crying out “mi-Mitzrayim,” and let us take them by the hand and lead them to freedom, lead them to the Promised Land.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. The views expressed in this guest column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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