This coming Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat HaGadol–the great Shabbat. This is always the Shabbat before Passover. Some suggest it is because so many questions about Pesach are asked of the Rabbi during the service that the service itself seems to go on forever!
I remember one year’s Q & A because one of the questions really got me thinking: why do we continue to make Egypt the bad guys? How can we have peace with a country that we vilify annually for enslaving us thousands of years ago?
A wonderful and thoughtful question! And I began to think about how our seder experience (the nighttime ritual of retelling the exodus story) might be viewed by contemporary Egyptians. Time and again, we speak of Egyptian bondage. Is it time to retire the phrase?
And then I came across a Hagaddah which makes no mention of Egypt or Egyptians! In its place is the word Mitzrayim. And while this is merely the Hebrew translation of Egypt, it refocuses our attention from a present peaceful neighbor to a past enemy.
And the word itself gives us a Passover lesson. The root of mitzrayim is “tsar”–or narrow. If we are to use this holiday season to unshackle ourselves from forms of personal slavery–habits, urges, vices, addictions, etc.–we should also consider how our vision has narrowed.
Are we narrow minded? Do we navigate our lives with blinders on? Do we restrict our thinking to biases and prejudices? Have we decided we will never change our mind? Then let us deliver ourselves from such slavish devotion to narrowness.
Let us liberate ourselves, at least a little, during this season of liberation!
-Rabbi David Vorspan, Rabbi-in-Residence