Tonight is the first night of Passover, the Jewish feast that remembers their liberation from slavery in Egypt. The celebration is tightly scripted and comes from the 12th Chapter of the Book of Exodus. Today anyone can purchase a book giving directions for this feast; it’s called a Haggadah. Last year I read about a new edition called the New American Haggadah and this year I purchased it.
In addition to giving instructions on celebrating the feast it also gives commentary and a timeline. One commentary grabbed my attention and I want to share it here. It speaks of slavery in Egypt and how slavery continues to exist. In a sense, anyone enslaved is still in Egypt. Here is what is says:
Who can say we’ve actually left? “Whenever you live, it is probably Egypt,” Michael Walzer wrote. Do you live in a place where some people work two and three jobs to feed their children, and others don’t even have a single, poorly paid job? Do you live in a community in which the rich are fabulously rich, and the poor humiliated and desperate? Do you live among people who worship the golden calves of obsessive acquisitiveness, among people whose children are blessed by material abundance and cursed by spiritual impoverishment? Do you live in a place in which some people are more equal than others? In America, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is nearly twice as high as it is for whites. Black people are five times as likely to be incarcerated as whites. Infant mortality in the black community is twice as high as it is among whites. America is a golden land, absolutely, and for Jews, it has been an ark of refuge. But it has not yet fulfilled its promise. The same is true for that other Promised Land. Jewish citizens of Israel have median household incomes almost double that of Arab citizens and an infant mortality rate less than half that of Arabs. Israel represents the greatest miracle in Jewish life in two thousand years – and its achievements are stupendous (and not merely in comparison to its dysfunctional neighbors) – and yet its promise is also unfulfilled. The seder marks the flight from the humiliation of slavery to the grandeur of freedom, but not everyone has come on this journey. It is impossible to love the stranger as much as we love our own kin, but aren’t we still commanded to bring everyone out of Egypt?