30 Days of Liberation – 2016

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200
The Talmud teaches that, during the 30 days before Passover, we should learn about matters related to the holiday. In that spirit, I composed a brief message for each of the previous 30 days, drawing from the wisdom Passover imparts. I hope you find these messages meaningful and inspiring, and if you do, feel free to share any or all of them far and wide.
Day 1 – Pharaonic Politics
“A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground'” (Exodus 1:8-10). So the Passover drama begins. Pharaoh rises to power through rallying his people around a common, if implausible, enemy – a growing immigrant population – and launches a campaign of intimidation, subjugation, and brutalization against this imagined foe. Too often in history, would-be leaders pursue power by identifying enemies rather than through proposing practical solutions for people’s most pressing challenges. This impulse is understandable. Identifying enemies is easier than developing solutions, and often more effective, especially if one’s objective is power rather than service. After all, believing that a particular person or group are the cause of one’s problems is more satisfying than understanding the complex phenomena at the root of our problems that defy easy solutions. But words have consequences, even if the person uttering them doesn’t really mean what he says. Enemies, once identified, must be battled and, ultimately, destroyed. And, once destroyed, the leader must continually conjure new dragons to slay. Beware, then, the demagogue who appeals to prejudice and fear. Pharaonic politics are eternal.
Day 2 – Post-Traumatic Growth
Compelled by Pharaoh’s fear-mongering, the Egyptians impose forced labor upon the Israelites, hoping to neutralize the imagined threat. But “the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out” (Exodus 1:12). The suffering should have crushed the Israelites. Instead, it made them prosper. The same can be true for each of us, if we allow it. Of course, none of us enjoy hardship, and pain need not be welcomed as a gift. However, the wisest among us harness trauma as a catalyst for growth. The next time you experience a difficulty, ask yourself: How can I be more like the Israelites here, growing because of – and in direct proportion to – the challenge I face?
Day 3 – Haters Gonna Hate
The Israelites draw Pharaoh’s ire because of their success: “The Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). When they prosper despite Pharaoh’s attempt to suppress them, they earn the enmity of the Egyptian people, too (1:12). While it is not wise to set out to make enemies, and while it is always worthy to enlist as many friends, partners, and supporters as we possibly can, we should also remember: success breeds opposition. Ironically, we can know we are on a path to victory when we encounter people trying to stand in our way. When you confront a hater, reflect. Do they have a point, or are they merely pointing out that you’re on the right track?
Day 4 – Who Owns Who?
Do you own your stuff, or does your stuff own you? We would typically say that the former describes our relationship with our possessions, but when we consider the lengths we go through to get, hold on to, and maintain certain items, it becomes clear that, for many of us, the latter is at least partially true. One might wonder how the Egyptians managed to enslave an entire population of Israelites already living peacefully and prosperously in its midst. The biblical text records no act of force; there was no police roundup of Israelite communities, no military raid. Instead, the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites “b’parekh” (Exodus 1:13). Literally, this translates as “oppressiveness,” but some commentators read it as a contraction of the Hebrew words for “soft speech.” The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites not through coersion but through soft speech. What kind of soft speech? “They told them, ‘Come, build cities that you may dwell in'” (Rabbi Jacob ben Asher). The Israelites were thus enslaved by their own desire for upward social mobility, their yearning for nice, new things. In every age, the same trap is set for us. We are entitled to own nice things, but we must be careful that they do not come to own us.
Day 5 – Don’t Live for the Applause
Most of us love being praised. Compliments and “likes” feel good. But adulation has a dark side. It can lead us to ignore important voices of constructive criticism, compel us to do only that which is popular, or cause anxiety when the applause feels more faint. The Passover story seeks to liberate us from praise’s narcotic qualities. Scripture teaches that the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites “b’farekh” (Exodus 1:13). Literally, this translates as “oppressiveness,” but some commentators understand it as a contraction ofthe Hebrew words for “soft speech.” The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites not through oppressive force but through kind words. The adoration of others can quickly become a trap from which escape becomes elusive. Enjoy well-earned compliments, but do not let it supplant a healthy self-confidence or a strong internal critic.
Day 6 – Spiritual Midwifery
The Exodus story is not only a historical-political narrative; it is also a psycho-spiritual drama, a metaphor that speaks to our inner struggles. We all have an inner Pharaoh, propelled by our fears and our appetites, that seeks to subjugate and subvert our deepest yearnings. So when the biblical Pharaoh plots to kill every newborn Israelite baby boy, it mirrors the fact that within each of us is a force that strives to sabotage our drive to truly flourish. But, as my teacher Reb Sholom Brodt explains, each of us also has an inner midwife, a force within us who is always trying to open doors for our innate goodness to shine forth. The Exodus happens because two brave Israelite midwives heroically refuse to carry out Pharaoh’s horrific law, leading to the birth of Moses. Personal redemption requires empowering our inner midwives to stand up to the designs of our inner Pharaohs.
Day 7 – Hear and Believe
Two cries. Two responses. One message. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers a crying baby in a basket among the reeds on the banks of the Nile. She “took pity on him,” drew him from the water, and adopted him as her son. Later, God hears the cries of the Israelites “groaning under the bondage.” God begins the workof drawing them out of Egypt, and taking them in as a beloved. Too often, we insulate ourselves from, rationalize away, or even ignore the suffering of others. The Exodus story reminds us that redemption only happens when we enable ourselves to hear and believe those entreaties. Not only must we commit ourselves to acknowledging the cries, but we also must choose not to see them as manipulations, delusions, or expressions of weakness, but rather as authentic outbursts of pain and need.
Day 8 – Adulthood
When exactly does one become an adult? Do we cross the threshold to adulthood at a particular age? A particular stage of biological development? Or does it have to do with our level of maturity and responsibility? If the latter, what ought to be the standard? The Book of Exodus says twice of Moses, “and he grew up” (2:10, 2:11). A midrash teaches that the first statement refers to Moses’ physical maturity, while the latter refers to Moses’ character. In other words, Moses only truly becomes an adult when he demonstrates moral greatness. And what is that? He “permitted his eyes and his heart to be pained” by witnessing the Israelites’ labor (Exodus Rabbah 1:27). We reach adulthood only when we open our eyes to suffering in the world, and when we permit ourselves to be pained by it.
Day 9 – From Great to Good
What makes us great? Usually, we think of greatness as a condition resulting from success, conventionally understood. However, Passover teaches us something different. Twice, the Book ofExodus says of Moses, “and he grew up” (2:10, 2:11). A midrash teaches that the first statement is about Moses’ size, and the second is about his “greatness.” What makes Moses great? He went out to witness the Israelites’ labor, permitting himself to be pained by their pain, and then struck down an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, an act that forced him to flee Egypt, leaving behind the wealth and power of Pharaoh’s palace. Moses’ greatness comes not from success. Rather, it is his character – his compassion, his moral courage – that makes him great. Our worth is not dictated by our successes or our failures. Only when we strive to be good can we become great.

Day 10 – Leaders Ask Questions
Why did God choose Moses? Over the centuries, biblical commentators have suggested many answers to this question, but it was because leaders ask questions, and Moses was a man of questions. Indeed, while Moses has only a handful of dialogue lines before God calls him, most of those lines are questions (cf. 2:13, 3:3, 3:11, etc.). And even Moses’ statements and actions prior to his commission that are not technically questions are investigatory in nature (cf. 2:11, 3:3). Leadership is about discovering the best way forward, which requires the curiosity to discover the uncharted, the humility to recognize what one does not yet know, and the courage to figure it out. God needed a leader, and since a leader asks questions, God needed Moses, a man of questions. Wherever you are called to lead, the path toliberation will only be discovered by asking.
Day 11 – Timing is Everything
At the end of chapter 2 of the Book of Exodus, there’s a strange passage: “A long time after that, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God. God heard their moaning, and God remembered God’s covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and God knew.” Did the Israelites not cry out before this? Did God somehow not hear or see what was going on? Did God forget the covenant? What did God not know? And what does the death of Pharaoh have to do with anything? The answer, in a word, is timing. In order for the Israelites to be redeemed, God needs Moses to return to Egypt. In order for Moses to return, the Pharaoh that sentenced him to death had to be out of the picture (Abraham ibn Ezra, 2:23). At the same time, since people have free will, a new Pharaoh could have ended Israelite enslavement, so God had to wait and see what the new Pharaoh would do. When God saw that the new Pharaoh chose to perpetuate the oppression, “God knew” it was time. If any of these circumstances had been otherwise, even God’s best plans to redeem the Israelites would have been thwarted. Even God had to wait until the time was right. The same is true for us: we may have a great idea, but unless it’s the right time, unless the conditions are just right to enable the idea to flourish, even our best plans will ultimately be a waste. Don’t underestimate the importance of timing in your life.
Day 12 – How the Force Really Awakens
Many of us associate moments of spiritual awakening with serendipity: the unassuming person, going about his or her daily business, is suddenly and inescapably struck by the divine spirit, or by a flash of brilliant insight. Think Paul on the road to Damascus, or Rey discovering she’s strong with the Force. That’s why so manyof us are “spiritual but not religious.” But while those kind of experiences are certainly possible, you are far more likely to have such a moment if you set out looking for it. Rather than by being randomly struck with a bright idea, the inventor innovates by working hard to solve a problem, and the musician composes by sitting to write music. So too is the seeker most likely to receive spiritual connection and insight through practices like meditation, prayer, or the study of sacred text. The truth is it’s hard to be spiritual without the help of religious practice. According to the medieval Italian commentator Seforno, Moses doesn’t stumble upon the Burning Bush by accident. Rather, he went to the “Mountain of God” to pray and meditate (2:1). Only by seeking God can he – and we – encounter God.
Day 13 – No Secrets
One of the principles of traditional Jewish study is that the Torah contains nothing superfluous. A seemingly unnecessary word is not just a clever turn-of-phrase, but rather harbors deeper meaning. So when God speaks to Moses from the Burning Bush and says, “I saw, I have surely seen the suffering of my people in Egypt,” the classical commentators assume there’s a good reason for the excess verbiage. Abraham Ibn Ezra says it means God saw not only the violence done to the Israelites in public, but also what was done to them in private, reminding us that, from the Jewish perspective, there is no morally neutral deed, no act without significance. We may think certain behaviors are innocuous because they take place in private. Ibn Ezra reminds us that we are never alone. Everything we do matters.
Day 14 – Sacrificing the Present
Since the Torah contains nothing superfluous, many classical commentators take an interest in Exodus 3:7, when God speaks to Moses from the Burning Bush and says, “I saw, I have surely seen the suffering of my people in Egypt.” Musaf Rashi, a medieval commentary on Rashi, says it means God saw the sins Israel would commit in the future (e.g. with the Golden Calf), but nevertheless acted to save them because of what God saw in the present. Often, we refrain from doing what is necessary right now because of a fear of how things will turn out down the road. While it is certainly important to consider the future consequences of our actions, God reminds us that we must not sacrifice the present moment for the unknown future. As the Eastern mystic Lao Tzu once wrote, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
Day 15 – The Inner I
When God tasks Moses with liberating the Israelites, Moses replies “Who am I (mi anokhi) that I should go to Pharaoh?” Interestingly, in the Hebrew, the word Moses uses for I, “anokhi,” is more famously used when God speaks about God’s self. Human speakers usually use the word “ani.” Perhaps Moses unwittingly hints here that there is godliness within him, he just hasn’t recognized it yet. That’s why God’s response is so powerful: “I will be with you.” In other words, God is telling Moses, there is already an “anokhi” within you, and when you set out on this sacred task, your inner I will be the one empowering you. The same is true with us. There is already godliness within us, and we too can accomplish wonders, if only we could see and embrace it.

Day 16 – Who am I?
When God tasks Moses with liberatingthe Israelites, Moses humbly replies “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” God offers the somewhat inscrutable response, “This will be your sign that I have sent you.” What, exactly, is the sign? According to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, Moses’ acknowledgement of his own inadequacy is itself the sign that God has sent him. Moses is qualified to go to Pharaoh precisely because of his humility, his recognition that he has not yet reached his spiritual, moral, and intellectual potential. The fact that Moses would say “Who am I” is the sign that he is God’s chosen. A leader is qualified only when he or she can freely admit his or her own inadequacies, and we can do God’s work in the world only when we can affirm our need to grow.

Day 17 – The Real Revolution of the Exodus
At the Burning Bush, Moses asks for God’s name, and God responds opaquely, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh,” usually translated as “I am that I am” or “I will be what I will be.” Such a mysterious answer begs for interpretation, however, and indeed there are hundreds ofways to understand it. Allow me to propose one more: I am that which is. I am all ofexistence. I am the ultimate reality. The Israelites were not just slaves in Egypt, they were slaves of Egypt, accepting the premises upon which Egyptian society was based: that some people are inherently more valuable than others, that worth could only be measured in wealth, that the material was of such importance the dead needed to carry it with them to the next world. Liberation from Egypt, then, required not only freedom from slavery, but also from the Egyptian mentality. And thus God’s first message to the Israelites, through Moses, the real revolution of the Exodus that still echoes today, is that there is more to reality than what can be touched and things more important than what can be bought; that, in a world where all is One in God, everyone is of equal and infinite value.

Day 18 – Stages of Redemption
The number four repeatedly appears in the rituals ofPassover observance: there are four questions, four cups ofwine, four sons, etc. Tradition holds that this number corresponds to four terms for liberation uttered by God in Exodus 6:6-7, “I will take you out,” “I will save you,” “I will redeem you,” and “I will take you.” Some commentators teach that these are actually four distinct stages ofliberation, rather than mere synonyms (cf. Beit Ya’akov). First, the people had to be physically removed from their enslavement. Then, they had to be saved from their own learned tolerance for injustice. Next, they had to be redeemed from the ways in which their suffering had twisted their own souls. Only then could they be taken by God, only then could they be fully committed to their new, true Master, God. The same is true of our own personal liberation, whatever it may be. We ultimately want to be free of all that holds us back from flourishing, but this requires a few steps. First, we must distance ourselves from whatever is trapping us in our current situation, whether that be our own actions or the influences of others. Then, we must address our complacency with the status quo. Next, we must eradicate within ourselves our desire, born of comfort or fear, to return to the very contexts that trapped us. Only then can we live truly liberated lives.
Day 19 – Becoming Prophets
One of the most misunderstood biblical concepts is that of a prophet. A prophet was not an ascetic mystic or a clairvoyant fortune-teller. Rather, a prophet was a person who spoke out about God’s will. A prophet was God’s public defender. So, when God tells Moses, “I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet” (Exodus 7:1), God teaches that one can fill a prophetic role not only for God, but also for other people. After all, every person is made in God’s image, and every man and woman is, in a sense, our brother or sister. The redemptive promise of Passover invites us to recognize those people in our lives who function as our prophets, to nurture relationships with those who could become our prophets, and, most importantly, to become prophets for the voiceless Images of God in our lives.
Day 20 – How to Get to Carnegie Hall
Much ink has been spilt on the issue of the hardening ofPharaoh’s heart. A hard heart is a biblical euphemism for recalcitrance, a stubborn refusal to yield to the dictates ofconscience and compassion. Pharaoh’s hard heart is what prevents him from setting the Israelites free, and in turn what causes God to unleash the 10 plagues. But in several instances, the text implies that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, which calls into question the justice of his being punished through the plagues. However, I think the term “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (cf. Exodus 10:27) is an idiom. When Homer writes that Athena guides Diomedes’ spear, all he means is that Diomedes threw his spear with exceptional accuracy. Similarly, God hardening Pharaoh’s heart simply means that Pharaoh’s recalcitrance – in the face of all the evidence – was extraordinary. How does one get to be so stubborn, so callous? Well, how does one get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, of course. Pharaoh had made a habit of his own coldness. He had trained himself to respond to injustice with cruelty, to opportunities to change with digging in his heels. Eventually, the response became instinctive. A sin leads to another sin, the rabbis teach, while a good deed leads to another good deed. The way to condition ourselves to act justly when it matters is to make a point of regularly doing good.
Day 21 – Hearts and Livers
What exactly is a hardened heart, anyway? A particularly colorful midrash likens it to a twice-cooked liver. Cooked once, properly, liver is soft and supple and melts-in-your-mouth. Cooked twice, improperly, it is tough and virtually inedible. More importantly, the exterior of such a liver becomes impermeable, like rubber. That’s what happens to Pharaoh. His heart becomes incapable of letting things enter: not only the Israelites’ cries and Moses’ pleas, but also the devastation of the plagues and the suffering of his own people. Once the heart is closed off, apathy becomes undiscerning and, as with Pharaoh, that’s when life begins to end.
Day 22 – Because of Righteous Women
One of the most noticeable features of the Seder is the prevalence of the number 4 :4 cupsof wine, 4 questions, the 4 children. There are,of course, a number of explanations for this. Symbolism always works that way. But I think the Seder itself answers this question. In the song “Ehad Mi Yode’a (Who Knows One)?” that we seeing toward the end of the service, four is understood to represent the Matriarchs, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Perhaps the rabbis who designed the Seder were trying to tell us something about the strong connection between righteous women and redemption, that the second cannot exist without the first. Indeed, the Exodus story is replete with examples of brave women risking everything in order to ensure that liberation happens, and the rabbinic tradition insists that redemption occurred only on account of the righteous women of that generation. The women kept faith while the men lost it, were resilient while the men faltered, stood up while men capitulated. The Seder reminds us that if we want to learn the lessons of our history, and to know the right direction for our future, we must look to the leadership and moral courage of women.
Day 23 – The Death of Firstbornism
Of the ten plagues, the one that stands out as the most brutal, and perhaps the most confounding, is the last one, the Death of the Firstborn. Why did every firstborn Egyptian, “from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well” have to die in order for the Israelites to be set free (Exodus 12:29)? Because it was not about killing individuals; it was about dismantling an ideology. Time and again, the Torah establishes Egypt as a foil for the biblical worldview; Egypt embodies the exact opposite of Israel’s values. At the core of Egyptian values is ingrained hierarchy. Where Israel sees human dignity as equal, absolute, and infinite, Egypt sees it as contingent on birth order, family status, and wealth. Where Egypt sees one’s origin as determinative of one’s destiny, Israel sees the right and ability we each have to transcend the circumstances into which we are born. Throughout the Bible, first-born children are supplanted by more meritorious younger siblings: Isaac, Jacob, and David, to name a few. Killing the firstborn is a repudiation of Egypt’s outlook on the primacy of one’s past and an embrace of true human freedom, the potential each of us has to transcend our inherited limitations.

Day 24 – How to See God
When Pharaoh’s magicians could not replicate the third plague, lice, they exclaimed, “This is the finger ofGod!” (Exodus 8:19). Yet Pharaoh refused to accept their conclusions. Indeed, Pharaoh fails to recognize God’s role in the plagues despite repeated acts that cannot be otherwise explained. How could Pharaoh have been so obtuse back then? The answer, of course, is the same many of us are today. God is not a premise that can be proven or disproven based on the quality of the argumentation or the preponderance of the evidence. Instead, we can experience God only after we first determine to see God’s presence in the world. If we don’t first commit to seeing God at work in the world, then even the most spectacular of miracles will appear bereft of the divine. However, when we approach the world expecting to see God’s presence, then even the most mundane occurrences will radiate godly light. Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” The Exodus story and the Jewish tradition establishes Einstein’s insight as a spiritual and a moral choice each of us perpetually faces.

Day 25 – Inner Fire
“When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation” (Exodus 9:23-24).  A midrashic tradition holds that this hail was unique, special, miraculous: the “lightning” referenced in the passage was actually inside the hail. The hail of the 7th plague was a ball of ice with fire in the middle. Perhaps this was to remind the Egyptians that no matter how cold they were toward Israelite suffering, there remained within them a soft, caring heart waiting to be revealed in compassion for the plight of others. We too can sometimes be apathetic to others’ pain. The hail reminds us that this is not who we are at our core. And we too can lose our sense of purpose in the routines and responsibilities of our lives. The hail reminds us that, even so, our passion perpetually blazes within, waiting to be rediscovered and unleashed.
Day 26 – Story Shapes Us
One of the unique features of humanity is that we are a storytelling species. No other animal so uses narrative to construct and understand its reality. Our stories literally shape us. From the earliest days in our lives, the narratives our parents, teachers, and other caregivers tell us nurture our perception of others, ourselves, and our relationship with everything. Thus the central imperative of the Exodus narrative is not to cultivate personal liberation or even to redeem the oppressed, important though those lessons derived from the story may be. Rather, it is “And on that day you shall tell your son” (Ex. 13:8), a command that shapes the primary ritual of Passover, the Seder. The instruction to tell our children the story of Passover is not to remember the history, per se. Nor is it to teach our children about their heritage. Rather, it is to shape them – and us – into people whose relationship to reality is rooted in the narrative. Only through the act of telling the story can we come to see ourselves as if we personally went out from Egypt; and only then can we see how we are still slaves or Pharaohs, how others are oppressed or oppressors, and to know on which side of our reality, understood in the shadow of the story, we are called to stand.
Day 27 – Recognizing Your Siblings
The ninth plague, darkness, is often overshadowed by the plague that comes before it, locusts, and the profoundly more extreme plague that succeeds it, the death of the firstborn. But embedded in the account of the darkness plague is a key to theliberation to which Passover invites us. Look closely at what happens when Moses causes darkness to fall on Egypt. The text doesn’t say people could not see each other. Rather, it says “a person could not see his brother” (Exodus 10:23). Was the darkness literal darkness? Or is it a metaphor, a darkness borne of Egyptians’ inability to recognize in the face of the other their brother or sister. A society that abides oppression is by definition one where people do not see their fellow men and women as the siblings they truly are. And such a society is enveloped in darkness. During the darkness, “All the Children of Israel enjoyed light in their dwellings.” To qualify as a child of Israel, to live in the light, one must recognize the brotherhood and sisterhood of all. Otherwise, one remains plunged in darkness as a child of Egypt.
Day 28 – A Moral Safety Net
Among the most perplexing aspects of the Passover narrative is that, just before the final plague, God tells each Israelite family to sit down together for a meal of lamb “roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs” (Exodus 12:9). This meal, God instructs, is to be eaten on the same night every year following the Exodus, not only on the eve ofliberation itself (12:14), a command that becomes the basis of the Seder ritual practiced by most Jews even today. Why a meal? Why at this moment? Why forever? The Passover story communicates the central moral messages of the Jewish tradition, the eternal missions of the Jewish people: that unity is the fundamental reality, that we are all related to each other, that living in such a world requires treating others with dignity and sowing justice, that we must therefore oppose Pharaohs. We transmit that message through story because narrative is how we construct our reality. We transmit that story through ritual so it can be uniformly passed through generations. And we transmit the ritual through food, because a meal provides an effective context for bringing people together, without which the ritual and the story would be useless. As a friend and teacher put it to me recently, “a meal is a moral safety net.” Without our food, we would risk losing our eternal moral message. Treat your Seder accordingly.

30 Days of Liberation: Day 29 – Carrying the Past With Us

Imagine the moment: God strikes down all the firstborn in Egypt. Pharaoh demands the Children of Israel leave at once. Egyptians rush to the Israelites’ settlements to give them reparations of gold and silver, a mixed multitude flocks to the Israelites to leave Egypt with them, and the Israelites themselves are scrambling to leave, not even having enough time to prepare bread for the journey. And where is Moses in this frenzied and eventful moment? On a lengthy quest to find Joseph’s bones, so he can take them with him out of Egypt (Exodus 13:19, Midrash Aggadah ad. loc.)! Moses’ actions seem perplexing to us moderns. When a future of infinite possibilities calls, why waste time and energy digging up old bones? Moreover, why weigh yourself down on the journey forward by carrying the burdens of the past? Because there is no future detached from the past, no self without a backstory. As a tree detached from the soil, we wither if we ignore where we came from, caring solely on where we are going. We cannot enter the Promised Land – or even leave Egypt – unless we carry Joseph’s bones with us.

Day 30 – Who Do You Serve?
With all this talk of liberation, it’s easy to forget that the objective of the Exodus was not liberation. Rather, the objectiveof the Exodus was covenant. God delivers the Children of Israel from Egypt so they will enter into a relationship with God. That relationship calls on Israel to be devoted to godliness and to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), meaning a people committed to loving and serving others, helping them live more godly lives and sowing peace in the world (Mishnah Avot 1:12). Covenant, of course, first requires liberation. The Children of Israel could not serve God while they still served Pharaoh. A person can only have one primary relational loyalty. Ultimately, one either serves Pharaoh or God and cannot do both simultaneously. The question Passover offers is not, “Are you free?” Rather, it is “Who or what do you serve?” How you will answer that question this year makes all the difference.
Have you appreciated these pre-Passover reflections? Let me know! Programs like this can only continue if I learn that they are making a real difference in people’s lives! And if you want to help support projects like this in the future, I’d be grateful for your sponsorship at any level: http://www.bethelrichmond.org/donate-2/clergy-discretionary-funds
This entry was posted in 30 Days of Liberation, Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s