It’s Almost Passover. Do You Know What Your Egypt Is?

I’ve never missed a Passover Seder. In the late eighties, I lived in Seville.  There was only one other Jew around I knew off–a great and good fellow from Ohio, Mitch Cohen.  But I’d met a lot of people. We gathered an army for the Seder–maybe the first openly celebrated Seder in Seville in 500 years.  Who knows?  Could be.  It’s possible.  We baked matzo.  We told the story.  We emptied the four cups.  Then we took it to ther streets and owned them  Fiesta!

Years later, my wife, Jan, and I had just moved to Jacksonville. She had to be out of the country during the holiday. I didn’t know a soul. I thought about having the Seder on my own, but I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t want to talk and sing to myself. It’s not that I don’t do those things. I do. Regularly. But somehow, with such a specific reason and story to tell, it seemed a little psychotic. Instead, I decided to live the story with my hands and heart, and I made this at the appointed time for the Seder:

mixed media, by Mark Ari
mixed media, by Mark Ari

For years after that, our Seders were full-hearted and shared with dear friends. This year, for a variety of reasons, it won’t be that way. Just the family. I would like to have friends. I would like to have my parents and sisters and cousins and nephew and nieces. But just the family here at home this time. And that’s no small thing. We are together and healthy enough to speak, to sing, to ask, to listen, to learn, to dream. We have a special package of matzo given to me by my friend, Rabbi Shmuli. Shmuli is Chabad. But he’s only a little crazy, so far as I know, and very generous. Not bad traits for a rabbi.

When I met Shmuli last week for coffee, he spoke of Egypt as not a place but a thing—the word isn’t meant simply to denote a particular civilization at a certain time. It refers to any oppressive element that exists in society or the mind or the spirit. On Passover, we are not supposed to “remember” but to relive. So, for each of us, the question becomes “What is your Egypt?”

And that has made me think of Jerusalem. Every Seder ends with the words “Next Year in Jerusalem.” But Jerusalem, like Egypt, is not merely a place. It, too, represents a human condition, a state in which we find ourselves when we are free of our peculiar Egypt, after we have made the journey that enables us to learn to live without that which oppresses us. That’s the heart of it. Egypt owns us so fully that we cannot imagine living without it. That is slavery’s strongest chain.

Recognizing Egypt, we set our feet toward Jerusalem. With each step, we build it. It’s the journey. Isn’t it always?