What is Passover really about?
The more I mull over the Exodus story, the more I think it's always been about change - or more accurately -- about our very human inclination to resist change.
At every point in the story, we come across resistance to the transitions faced by the Israelites. Again and again the characters in the tale cling tenaciously to what was, even though the promise of what is to come is so much more inspiring.
Consider Moses. God comes down from the Heavens, and says, "Moses. I choose you to lead the Israelites out of Egypt." And what does Moses say? "I don't think so God. You've got the wrong guy. Try someone else."
Amazingly enough, this is the MO in the Torah. Eve eats the apple. Abraham argues with God. Sarah laughs when God tells her she is pregnant. Job questions Gods wisdom.
Let's not even get into the Israelites! It took ten miraculous, awe-inspiring plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna falling from the skies in the exact amount needed each day, and a prince of Egypt turned into saviour and leader - with a speech impediment no less! - to convince these people that change is good.
And even then, the story tells us, the Jews complained and asked to be taken back to Egypt.
Even with all this, they constructed the Golden Calf and sent spies ahead to the Promised Land to make sure God's word was trustworthy.
Many have suggested that this echo of disbelief and doubt followed by redemption and miracles in the Pesach story is a lesson in having faith in God. But I think it's also a lesson about the very human habit we have of resisting transitions and change because we are so hung up on what we already know, on what is familiar.
The story of Exodus tells us over and over again that all human beings fear change even when all the evidence is pointing towards how much better the unknown will be.
What is this fear all about? What are we so scared of?
Uncertainty, one could say. We all fear uncertainty. We fear what we don't know.
But consider the Israelites once more. What could be worse than being slaves in Egypt - in having your firstborns slaughtered - in having no free will? Yet, still they preferred that reality to the unknown.
And think about Moses again: Who says no to God?! (For God's sakes!) Especially when God tells you you will be the leader of a nation - you will lead these people into the Promised Land. You will be great and your name will be revered. And still, Moses resists! Resists acknowledging and owning his own greatness.
Why?? Why is this case?
Underneath all this fear I think is our reluctance to mourn. Change and transition always, always brings with it loss. Loss of what was before. Loss of that which was familiar. With every change, good or bad, something else needs to be left behind - whether that's another person, one's home, or even just ones' idea about oneself - there is always loss involved in every transition. And, as well all know too well, loss, necessary as it is, is painful. It sucks. We want to avoid it at all costs. And that, most of all, can paralyze us.
The Exodus story is old. Thousands and thousands of years old. But the lessons are as relevant as it if were written yesterday. How many of us cling to what we know because we are so afraid of what is to come? Even if what is to come is so much better than where we are right now.
The Passover story reminds me that not only is this fear of change normal, it's necessary. We have to wander in the desert for a while before we can earn our freedom and find our own Promised Lands. The trick is not to be afraid once you've set out and are roaming. Yes, we must always mourn what we've lost, but we also need to keep moving deeper and deeper into what appears to be barren and empty and scary. So much is waiting on the other side if we are brave.
And as for Moses. Dear Moses. What can we learn from him? In the Jewish tradition, we believe that God resides in each individual and that one of our purposes on earth, in addition to Tikkun Olam, is to fully become -- to fully develop into ourselves.
We are told at the end of your life when you come to your judgment day, God will not ask you, "why weren't you more like so and so?" You will be asked instead "why weren't you more like you - the full you?" We will be judged on our fearlessness in becoming our own full, glorious, shining selves.
Like Moses, how many of us are afraid of our own light? How many of us still seek the approval of others to tell us we are ok? Or give away our greatness? Allow others to take credit that for which is rightfully ours? Shrink from our own potential because we fear failure or ridicule or change? Moses' reluctance to grow into his greatness is not so shocking when you think about it this way. We all do it to one extent or another.
As with the Jewish tradition, the Buddhist teachings tell us that freedom comes from accepting impermanence and change in our lives. All suffering, they tell us, comes from attaching to the illusion that there is any permanence at all.
Remember, the Israelites are commanded in three tasks in order to exit Egypt. They are all about transition.
The first is circumcision - making a commitment to the change by physically marking their bodies. Very painful step indeed!
The second is to slaughter the ram and mark their doors with the blood. The ram was an Egyptian God, so to slaughter this animal was to slaughter the idol. To slaughter what the Jews themselves might have even considered to be a god. Imagine the fear... Imagine the commitment required in this transition. Imagine what it would be like to truly slaughter your own idols? To dig beneath the surface of your day-to-day and see what truths lie underneath? It's scary because it means you might have change.
The third and final was to start to mark time with the fluctuation of the moon. The Jewish people started to mark time at the time of the exodus by noting how the moon waxed and waned each month. It's here we start to celebrate Rosh Chodesh - the head of the month. A monthly reminder that change abounds. That nothing ever stays the same.
This Passover, perhaps we can take for ourselves the time and the inclination to reflect on the transitions in our own lives; the ones that you are resisting; the ones that just happened; and most of all, the ones that are waiting for you to act on.
Don't be afraid of the desert. The Promised Land awaits on the other side, even if it requires some wandering in the unknown for a while. We are always free to make another choice. It's easy to forget this in the day-to-day. Exodus teaches us that even though it is hard (indeed, it teaches to remember that it is ALWAYS hard) it is also always possible to choose something new today. To be free of what was and to enter into the unknown.