What does it really mean, to leave Egypt in our own time?
The name for Egypt in the Torah is Mitzrayim (meetz-RYE-yeem.) That means “a narrow place.” We can easily see how it got its name when we look at a map of Ancient Egypt:
Image: Map of Egypt by Jeff Dahl or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
The green area in this map is the arable, liveable Egypt. The Nile is at its heart, source of food, source of water. Without the Nile, no one could live in Egypt. With it, it is the wealthiest, most stable empire of the ancient world. Just beyond the reach of the Nile, though, lies desert, one might even say deadly desert, on each side of it stretching for hundreds of miles.
We can learn a lot from this map, for instance: Egypt was the original “tight spot.” In a land so narrow, I imagine that there could be very few secrets, except the secrets everyone agreed to keep.
It took bravery to leave Egypt overland. Leaving meant not just leaving behind the bad stuff (like slavery) but things like food and water. The wilderness was scary, and for good reason.
So, now, thinking about our situation in the 21st century: where is Egypt, really? What are the tight spots in our own histories? Where have you felt stuck in a narrow place, with few choices and none of them easy? When and how (or were) you delivered?
At the seder, celebrate that deliverance. Or cry out for the deliverance that has not come.
Where are the tight spots in our hearts? Where are we narrow, confined in our thinking? What would it take to strike out into the unknown, to look for a more expansive way to think and feel? What would it take?
At the seder, start in Egypt. Own the narrow places in our hearts. Join hands and hearts for the courage to step into what is uncomfortable.
Where are the tight spots at our table? To whom do we say, “You are Other” and unwelcome? Who is too scary, too different, too disturbing to include at our table?
At the seder, notice who is not at the table. Who is too scary? Too different? Too disruptive? Ask, how could we make our table a little broader? How can this table leave Mitzrayim?
Passover is the time to leave Mitzrayim, not only in the past, but always, every year. Each year has a different story and different Egypts. Each year we strive to leave them, and sometimes we actually make it.
Our seders close with the famous words, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Those words can be literal: next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem. Or they can be metaphorical: Next year, we will be in a different place. We will live in a city on a hill, a bright light to the lands beyond. We will be different people, because we have been through the wilderness.
So we have a choice: Change, or stay the same. Be free, or be slaves. It’s up to us.
I wish us all a Pesach of sweetness and challenge!
4 thoughts on “Pack Your Bags, We’re Out of Here.”
I like that we emphasize our current narrow places, how we entrap ourselves in situations that keep us from fulfilling our purpose in this life and how to let HaShem lead us out
I like the way you put it, Meredith! Chag Pesach sameach!
I’ve always found it rather ironic that we observe a holiday commemorating a time when we had to just drop everything and go! Now! Before they change their mind again!, and where the texts even explicitly say that we have matzah because they had no time to prepare anything or let their dough rise, with this grueling process of preparation that takes weeks. It’s never made sense to me. Can you point me to something that might help me out?
Hmmm. That’s a good question, Patti. Chapter 12 of the book of Exodus contains both the orders for the first Passover (that scary night in Egypt) and for subsequent Passovers. It sounds like the day before was a grueling one for the ancient Hebrews, with a long to-do list. But the commands for future times seem to be just as long or longer. Then, of course, we rabbis “built a wall around the Torah” demanding that every scrap of anything that might be chametz be cleaned out. And of course, we got larger and fancier homes!
Thanks for the great question.