This Passover, let us pass over from alienation to brotherhood, from indifference to mutual responsibility.
Soon, as we do every year, we will be seated once again around the seder table.
The Jewish nation is a special one. It was formed not by biological kinship or geographical proximity, but by adherence to an idea—the idea of unity! We became a nation only when we agreed to live “as one man with one heart,” and we were given the task to be “a light unto nations” when we pledged to love our neighbors as ourselves. And Passover is where it all began.
Until Moses was born, the people of Israel were very happy in Egypt. They were prosperous and wealthy, and enjoyed life’s amenities of “pots of meat” and “bread to the full” (Exodus, 16:3). But material contentment can only take us so far. It is human nature that once we have what we want we begin to want something else, something higher. At that point we begin to seek delight in human connection.
That moment of beginning is the birth of Moses—an aspiration for brotherhood and connection. It has existed all along, maturing in the house of Pharaoh and enjoying the material pleasures life has to offer until it had its fill.
At that moment begins the exile in Egypt. Pharaoh, our egoism, cannot surrender to such “lofty” ideas as brotherhood, connection, and mutual responsibility. It loathes and despises them.
And yet, the more the children of Israel developed as individuals and as a society, the more they felt that unity was the next step, a must happen scenario. The children of Israel went through a process similar to the one happening today, where we are realizing that our happiness, health, and general well-being depend on the quality of our social relations. Pharaoh did not want to torture the children of Israel; he simply wanted them to continue to cater to him, namely the ego, rather than to follow Moses, meaning aim for brotherhood and mutual care. And when they wouldn’t go along, he became the vicious king we know from the story.
Our forefathers insisted on their unity and eventually won. They united at the foot of Mt. Sinai and received the law, whose essence the Holy SHLAH expresses by these few words: “Love is the commandment on which the entire Torah stands: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” The children of Israel carefully cleared themselves of hametz [leaven], the self-centeredness within them, and passed over from egoism to brotherhood until they became a nation bound together and united by the vision of love of others.
Today, as we are waking up from the American Dream to the reality that we cannot base our societies on competition and isolation, we are beginning to feel more and more like the children of Israel in exile. Until now Egypt was quite fun, but now it is becoming hostile and feels more and more like exile.
Now is the time to rekindle our brotherhood and love of others and pass over once again. It is the beginning of a new year, a new era in our society. It is time to shift to a new paradigm of relationships.
The “Me, me, me” culture has exhausted itself because we are simply not happy being confined to our separate shells. In order to be happy, we, the descendants of the children of Israel, must move like our forefathers from egoism to brotherhood and mutual responsibility.
Imagine the life we will have when we care for one another. No one will have to struggle through life’s trials because everyone will help out. And likewise, we will enjoy helping others. And as each of us chips in for our neighbors, our ties will strengthen and create a bond that will build a society based on friendship, warmth, and unity. “Love your neighbor as yourself” will stop being a cliché, and will become what it was always meant to be—our reality.
Recently there have been numerous references in the press to the disunity of the Jewish community. It is a good sign. It shows that we are beginning to see fragmentation and alienation as the root of our problems. We will always have diversity, but rather than fear it, we should embrace it! The more diverse we are, the more our brotherhood will grow, as long as we value unity above all else.
And there is another bonus. As we unite above our differences we will present a model of a prosperous community that thrives because of its diversity, rather than despite it. This is something that the world needs desperately today. We can offer it. We had it when we came out of Egypt, and we can reignite it now and share it with the world. In this we can become “a light unto nations,” a beacon of hope for the world.
This Passover, let us pass over from alienation to brotherhood, from indifference to mutual responsibility. In short, let us all come out of Egypt, together.
Featured in The Jerusalem Post