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THE ESSENTIAL PASSOVER TOPIC

26 March 2018 No Comment

THE ESSENTIAL PASSOVER TOPIC
Rabbi Michael Whitman

This Friday night Jews all over the world gather in homes to celebrate Passover, the beginning of our journey from slavery to freedom and our birth as a People. The central feature of this celebration is to tell our story. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out Moses instructs the Jewish People to formulate the story they will tell their children about this event, and Moses gives this instruction before the Exodus occurs. In other words, the preparation for the event itself, is to formulate how we will tell it in the future, what it will mean to us in the future. And the Bible records at least 36 times, what our experience of slavery in Egypt and the freedom from it should mean to us: Don’t mistreat the immigrant, because you were immigrants in Egypt. Variations of this sentiment are repeated so frequently throughout the Bible that to ignore it is to miss something central and essential to Passover.

But Passover cannot only be about the past. We are to tell our story in each generation. We must make the narrative of going from slavery to freedom our story, in our words and in our time. And this central and essential theme has never been more relevant. The subject of immigration and how we treat immigrants is on our minds here in Canada, and around the world. Israel today faces a profound quandary of how to treat many thousands of African immigrants – how to balance the needs of serving its own population while remaining true to Jewish values of kindness and compassion to strangers. Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, a prominent scholar and leader in Israel, recently said: “A Jewish state is not judged by the number of Jews it houses, but by how loyal it is to its Jewish moral compass.”

There are no simple answers. And I strongly urge not allowing the Passover celebration, or any other family gathering, to be marred by political arguments. But the subject of immigration and the treatment of immigrants must be present at Passover, because, as Rabbi Sacks writes, “To be a Jew is to be a stranger.”

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