03/31/2015 12:34 pm ET Updated May 31, 2015

Passover as a Living Memory

Everything is on the line. Know it or not, our very survival hangs in the balance. With a few meager possessions, we hurry out the door running to an unknown destiny. Every year we are told to see ourselves as if we are leaving Egypt. The desert to which we fled isn't just a wilderness in a literal sense; it is the vast uncertainty that is before us whenever we abandon the lives that we have known and head into foreign places and a vague future. There is a reason we speak in the present tense about the Exodus from Egypt. It isn't the past. It isn't history. It is a living memory. And for some in our world, it is the only life they have known.

At the very moment we were fleeing from places like Europe, Ethiopia and today the Ukraine, we have retold the story of the Exodus from Egypt. From concentration camps, we echoed the four questions. In damp Russian cellars they declared, "Next Year in Jerusalem."

But the feeling of exile and isolation takes many forms beyond geographical. More often than not there is no community surrounding us when we flee into the tangle of ambiguity. Alone, our foundations broken, we wander in uncertainty. For some, it is the feeling of exile that comes with the loss of a job. For others, it is the terror of an inability to leave an abusive partner. And yet, for others it is the slavery of addiction or mental illness. Redemption may come in stuttered steps if it comes at all. The pillar of fire may be more of a match flickering. The seas don't always part. Sometimes it is a long slog through a swamp of confusion.

Passover is our origin story and embedded in that story is the very essence of our people. In the crucible of those spectacular events, our peoplehood was forged -- the spiritual DNA of Judaism itself. And those ancient experiences have compelled our actions ever since. It is because we were strangers we are commanded to take up the cause of the stranger. It is because we were outsiders we have a visceral response when we see people marginalized. It is because we know the face of poverty we tell all who are hungry to come and eat. In this way, the past becomes present and our story becomes one.

Each year, we tell our children and remind ourselves of critical truths forged in adversity. Our story and the story of our ancestors still command us -- with direction, with purpose, and with meaning so powerful that it transcends the finite boundaries of time or our fragile lives.

In this season, if you find yourself in the narrow place, confined and demoralized, I hope our enduring story will help you travel a path that leads you safely through your wilderness. And if you find yourself already resting in freedom's green pasture, I hope you will always remember that once you were a stranger in a strange land.