03/26/2013 01:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Universal Relevance of Passover


As I put the finishing touches on the second night of Passover Seder I will lead tonight, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

The first being that the message of Passover is universal and relevant, transcending time, place and culture. Yes, human trafficking and sex slavery are still very much with us, not just in the far reaches of Africa or South East Asia, but here too in the United States where 100,000 children are estimated to be involved in the sex trade. But, who among us has not felt metaphorically enslaved in some sense? Who among us has not had the feeling of wandering through the proverbial desert in search of the promised land? Who among us has not yearned for something in our lives or our society to change?

That leads me to the second point: Passover is a holiday about hope. Whether the modern day pharaohs that torment us are soul-crushing jobs or difficult semesters in school, financial anxieties or divorce, Passover teaches us that life can get better. Better yet, the story of a people who move from slavery to freedom reminds us that change in a given realm is achievable and that the past and present need not constitute the future. In other words, we have agency over our own lives and can work to deliver ourselves from our own Egypts. Just as the Exodus from Egypt did not happen overnight--in fact the story speaks of 40 long, arduous years in the desert--Passover reminds us that the changes we seek in our lives might be slow and gradual, even painful, but we should not despair.

The third point is that Passover is a political holiday. The Passover Haggadah mandates empathy, teaching, "In every generation, it is incumbent upon us to see ourselves as if we had gone out of Egypt." We are reminded that our ancestors were persecuted and oppressed, and regardless of how comfortable our lives may be today, our history obliges us to oppose injustices in our contemporary world. Of course, this is not just the Jewish story, but our broader American story. Nearly all of us in the United States came from elsewhere, whether we or our ancestors escaped religious persecution in England, pogroms in Russia, genocide in Rwanda or a lack of opportunity in El Salvador. Some of our ancestors came involuntarily, forced into a system of servitude defended by our same founding fathers who proclaimed, "All men are created equal." Throughout American history, we have sometimes strayed from our mission and fallen short of our ideals. But, our American Revolution did not end in 1783--it is a perpetual work in progress in which the "arc of liberty" Dr. King spoke of bends closer and closer towards justice. It is therefore fitting that as we celebrate Passover this week, the Supreme Court is hearing two cases on gay marriage and comprehensive immigration reform is high on the agenda in Washington.

At the end of the Passover Seder, we typically say, "Next year in Jerusalem." This year let us also hope that next year, individually and collectively, we will be in our own Jerusalems, our own promised lands, whatever they may be. Let us hope that our gay brothers will be delivered from the desert of inequality and our undocumented sisters will be freed from throes of limbo and given a path to citizenship.