Exodus 2.0

B’chol dor va dor chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatzah mimitzrayim

In every generation, each person is obligated to consider themselves as if they personally had made the exodus from Egypt.

This is really an extraordinary instruction. It’s as if an ancient committee of Jewish leaders got together on a Passover planning retreat and brainstormed a Mission Statement for the Seder.

So what’s the big deal? Don’t we routinely seek to connect and empathize with our ancestors and what they experienced? Isn’t this simply a commemoration of yet another biblical story?

Indeed, our Passover mission statement transcends the mere act of commemoration. It’s telling us: Don’t just imagine a person being freed from bondage. BE the person. This didn’t just happen to someone else—ok, let’s sing some songs and get on with the meal. Instead—we ourselves were in a place of burden, a place of oppression and restriction, and now we’ve been redeemed.

This year, we don’t have to do too many mental gymnastics to put ourselves in that frame of mind, as we begin to prepare for our second, but hopefully last, Passover seder in virtual captivity. Written thousands of years ago, the story of Passover has never been more relevant than in the years 2020-2021.

And what is that maybe not-so-ancient story? A new leader arose, who looked upon all the people and only saw what he considered to be threats and potential ways that he would be overthrown from power. He lived in a place called Mitzrayim—literally “a narrow place”—where only the needs of a few were considered at the expense of everyone else. Experts came into his presence and tried to show him miraculous demonstrations of science and the potential path to freedom from this self-imposed narrow place—but his heart was hardened and he refused to listen.

He and his followers caused everyone to dwell in a perpetual plague of darkness, where they lived in selfishness, where they could not or did not see the needs of the people, and which caused everyone to be afraid to get up and go outside. A plague of darkness where so many people made the conscious choice to look away from the light and embrace ignorance and despair.

Still, the scientists and advisors appeared—begged for understanding— and repeatedly declared, “We know the way to Let Our People Go.” And time and time again, we saw hearts being hardened.

And as we stand now at the threshold of our second Passover in Mitzrayim—we can begin to viscerally understand how it must have felt when the plague of darkness was finally lifted. We’re fulfilling that ancient instruction: We’re not just imagining them. We ARE them.

You know, one question that I’ve heard asked—that I’ve posed myself—about our beloved and familiar story of the Exodus is if God heard the suffering of the people, and sought to free them from bondage, why did He go through all of this mishegos and prolong the process? Why didn’t God just snap His anthropomorphic fingers, alleviate so much needless suffering, and make everyone free?

Now it makes more sense. The ancient authors of this story knew that life doesn’t work that way. If the narrative had indeed told of God instantaneously redeeming the Israelites, the story would never have endured, it would never have resonated.

And it would not have allowed us—living in the year 2021—to experience—not just recall, but truly experience once again—our own miraculous redemption from Mitzrayim—a narrow place—literally narrow in each of our allotted Zoom squares, as well as a place of narrow mindedness.

As the text reads, we were redeemed b’yad chazakah u-viz-roah n’tuyah. With a strong hand and an outstretched arm.

By God’s strong hand—as manifested by the intricacies of science, the bravery of first responders and health care workers, the selflessness of countless volunteers who aid in vaccinations into our own outstretched arms—we will cast off the trappings of bondage, we will soon, soon enough, leave our masks behind, and we will emerge from our Zoom boxes–realizing that we have, not just metaphorically, but literally: yatzah mimitzrayim.

Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

1 comment on “Exodus 2.0

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