"[I]f I were standing at the beginning of time...and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through...the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, April 3, 1968
This week Jews all over the world celebrate Passover. We gather around Seder tables to tell the ancient story of our people's release from generations of bondage in Egypt.
Dr. King understood the universal meaning of Passover. He drew strength from the events Jews commemorate at the Passover Seder, inspiration from the story of mankind's original battle against oppression and final release from slavery.
The Seder is, in fact, a retelling of the story of Exodus. A reminder of the high price paid by the oppressor as well as the oppressed. A pledge to understand and remember the sacrifice that brought freedom to an entire race.
And a very clear message: Slavery. Is. Wrong. Freedom. Is. Right.
It happened thousands of years ago to the Jews. It happened hundreds of years ago to the Africans. It's still happening today to people around the world.
Every year we tell the story of the Exodus to each other and to our children. We display and eat special foods, bitter and sweet, fertile and flat, we ask specific questions, we recite age-old prayers ... all to represent and remind us of the Israelites' bitter enslavement and their mighty struggle to be free.
We do all this to make sure we will never forget the importance of freedom. And of the laws of God, Nature and Humanity.
Passover Belongs to All of Us
You don't have to be Jewish to honor the meaning of Passover. It's far more than a triumph against slavery. If you belong to any organized religion --even if you don't-- the events of Passover helped form who we are today. At least who we stive to be.
Unlike their slave-masters, who worshiped a whole panoply of gods, the Israelites were monotheistic. One people, one God. The foundation of Judiasm, Christianity, Islam. Even, with no disrespect, of Do Your Own Thing.
During the Exodus, we're told, Moses ascended Mt Sinai to commune with God and returned with Ten Commandments. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. One thing is clear. The Ten Commandments came into being during the great Exodus of the Israelites from slavery.
Something else is clear. The Ten Commandments form the seminal template for how members of a civilized society should behave.
Who's In Charge? And Who Put Them There?
Yes, in modern times we evolved. We created laws, a constitution, courts, governments, leaders, citizen participation and much more. We needed local, national and international commerce, industry, agriculture, education, transportation, infrastructure, medicine, research, protective forces, communication ... the list is virtually endless.
With all that creation, just as in the biblical story of Genesis, came greed and suspicion and evil.
We definitely do not need those devisive emotions and behaviors. Hate. Racism. Sexism. Abuse of those less powerful. Arrogant presumption to decide what is right or wrong for another human being. Radical --perhaps deliberate-- abuse and misuse of power to interfere with our most basic human freedoms.
It is surely an abomination to practice any of those evils in the name of God.
There is a responsibily that comes with freedom. It's simple, really. To respect and accept the right of everyone to be free from the oppression of being preyed upon, ignored, used.
The Passover celebration of the Israelites' release from bondage has become an abiding symbol of the desire to be free and the power of faith in God, even in the face of overwhelming oppression and evil.Easter Reminder
It is your symbol too. As many of you celebrate Easter, remember how it all began. One people, one God. Accepting the Ten Commandments and believing in loving our neighbor as ourselves.
The continuing struggle against oppression and evil belongs to all of us. If we forget that and allow hate mongers to turn us against each other, to determine what we do with our bodies and how we choose to behave in the privacy of our homes, we will again become slaves. To people much worse, and arguably more dangerous, than any Pharoh.
If we don't step up and soon, Moses, Mohammed, Jesus, Dr King and all our historic, spiritual, political leaders and role models will have acted in vain.
Of course I'm angry at the self-righteous trampling of our freedoms, especially in the cynical name of "God's will." I still wish a very Happy Passover and Easter to all the good folks who celebrate with hope and faith. May you enjoy your families and traditions during these holidays.
But please, let us all never forget the fragile foundation upon which our hard-fought freedoms now rest.