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What is  YOur Exocus Story  #770

03/17/2023 05:32:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei
What is your exodus story?

Perhaps one of the saddest side effects of today’s “me-focused” society is that too many have forgotten where they come from.

When my paternal grandfather arrived in North America just after World War I, he hauled ice blocks up long flights of stairs to help keep his customers' ice boxes cold.

My maternal grandfather, days after reaching our shores in 1905, took a train north and sold socks, underwear, combs and cosmetics—farmhouse-to-farmhouse at temperatures often below -30 degrees.

Where did your parents or grandparents come from?

What did they escape, and what did they endure to ensure that you and future generations did not have to experience the same hardships?

These are the questions I consider this week, as we complete the reading of the second book of the Torah—Exodus.

Often, when we sit at the Seder table, we recount what we consider to be the true Passover story:

“We celebrate on Pesach the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt, and because they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, we don’t eat bread products for eight days.”

That’s a good start, but there is so much more to consider. While there will be opportunity again this year to recount the plagues that God brought down upon the Egyptians, perhaps we also should take the time to consider the plagues society experiences today.

More importantly, what are the antidotes, and how can each of us commit to being part of the solutions?

This week, as we complete the reading of the Book of Exodus—as I begin to spiritually prepare for Passover—I find myself considering a more personal Exodus.

I feel a deep sense of gratitude toward my aging parents and my grandparents.

How fortunate our generation is. How much more fortunate our children are. But do they always know it?

At the beginning of the Book of Exodus, the Torah recounts how a new Pharaoh arose in Egypt. He did not know Joseph nor what he and the Israelites had contributed to sustain Egyptian society.

The parallels between the Torah and our own family histories are striking.

How many of our ancestors were once welcomed in Germany, Russia, Poland, Iran, Iraq and Syria only to be rejected and persecuted when a new regime came to power?

It begs us this week—as we complete the second book of the Torah—to reflect upon how our parents and grandparents traversed deserts, or voyaged across seas, to initiate their own Exodus towards freedom.

It is said that each of us, physically or spiritually, is a descendant of the Egyptian Exodus. But perhaps equally important, we are each connected to our own family Exodus.

At this time of the year, I think about departed generations. How did they adapt to a new culture, or learn a new language? How many endured a lower social and professional status than they had enjoyed in “the old country.”

All in the name of freedom. All in the name of you and me.

The Torah teaches that God placed the Jews under Egyptian slavery to truly see what was in their hearts.

It also teaches that Egyptian slavery developed within the Jewish people a sensitivity—spiritual antibodies—to appreciate and commit ourselves against the persecution of others.

Perhaps at this year’s Seder we need to further expand the Exodus story—from Moses to our own families, to events of today.

As we witness the brave fight of the Ukrainian people—led by a leader connected by ancestry to Moses—let us consider how others in this world are still subjected to slavery.

Who is under attack? Who is enslaved? What can we do to help?

At the start of the Book of Exodus, we are a collection of 12 loose tribes, and when we exit it, we are a united people with an eternal mission to assist God in Tikun Olam—the healing of the world.

As we prepare for this year’s Seder, it behooves us to include within our family rituals of readings, songs and prayers, a portion devoted to the plagues of our time.

Let us also engage with current generations as we consider: What can we do to make this world a better place?

The Torah instructs us to teach the lessons of Passover to future generations. We have become very skilled at teaching about Moses, Pharaoh, matzah and freedom.

But, as we contemplate how to make Pesach more relevant to our children, let us also consider the Hebrew name for the Book of Exodus, and that is Shemot—Names.

How many of us, along with our children and our grandchildren carry the names of those who no longer walk this earth.

Our ancestors inherited these names from the parents and grandparents of their past. A mystical teaching says that the world moves closer to eventual healing as each of us takes that given name and elevates it to an even higher level—L’dor V’dor—from generation to generation.

So perhaps this year, as we gather for Pesach, let’s take a moment to engage our children in the stories contained within the names they carry.

We owe so much to the courage, hard work and sacrifice of those who initiated our own family Exodus.

How proud they would be to know that their extraordinary fortitude, bravery and love made it possible for us to enjoy the lives we do.

As we look at our beautiful families gathered around the Passover table, let us be reminded of where we come from. And in so doing, perhaps we and our children will approach our own blessings and good fortune with increased engagement—and gratitude.

This Passover, as always, let us commemorate the Exodus of the Jewish people thousands of years ago. But let us also recall the journeys of our own families, and the plight of those who have yet to be liberated.

As we complete the reading of the Book of Exodus, let us commit to sanctify their names, and recognize the courage of those who no longer sit as our Passover tables.

What are their names? What are their stories?

What lessons can we teach to our children and grandchildren?

How can we impress upon them whose shoulders they stand upon, and, with profound gratitude, how fortunate they are?

Ultimately, that may be the true meaning of Passover.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, November 28 2023 15 Kislev 5784