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Thursday, 21 March 2013

We Were Slaves And Now Others Are Instead

The whole point of the seder service is to bring the Exodus from Egypt, an event from our past, directly into present day relevance. “We were slaves to Pharaoh,” “This is because of what the Eternal did for me when bringing me out of Egypt.” This isn’t a commemoration but a re-enactment. As we read of the Exodus, we take part in it. We become free and explore with food and questions what it is to be free. We are guided through the Haggadah to consider those who are not free and we open the door and invite all those who are hungry to come and eat. Then we close the door, either to keep out the cold or possibly because subconsciously we don’t know what we would do with ourselves if some impoverished person turned up on our doorstep at that moment asking for food.

As a child I always thought the message of the seder was that we are free but actually I think it’s more complex. I think more accurately the seder is a theological exploration of what it is to be free in a world where others are not. The seder doesn’t just say “We’re free!” but, rather, “We’re free…. so now what?” As information becomes globalised we now know more than ever of millions of people who are anything but free. There are people who are oppressed politically, who are oppressed because of their gender or sexuality, who are restricted because of starvation. There are those who have jobs but who are all but slaves in the most obvious sense, earning a pittance so that companies can make the largest profit providing us with the latest trainers, electronic gadgets or designer labeled clothes. The more we learn about this world the more it seems that freedom is the exception and not the norm.

The Seder service demands a choice from us - will you sit around and drink wine, or will you use your freedom to liberate others? Coupled with the Divine call for justice in the Torah – “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deut. 16:20) – the Seder service is the enactment of a theological imperative to recognise our own freedom and to use it to liberate others. Yet we spend so long planning the eating, drinking and reciting that we easily forget the urgency of the imperative. This Pesach, let us also hold the enactment of that imperative to be as important as any other aspect of Pesach. Let it be not just “This is what the Eternal did for me” but also “This is what I did for others.”