Making Passover Personal

“In every generation, we are obliged to see ourselves as if we personally went out of Egypt.”

This injunction is read at the Passover Seder. It enjoins the Jewish people to remember the Exodus as more than just a historical event that occured thousands of years ago. We should do more than recount the story of our people’s deliverance. We are required to try to re-experience it; tasting the bitterness of slavery and the sweet joy of liberation.

This should move us to identify with those who are still oppressed; whether they are literally enslaved, like ISIS’s captives in the Middle East, or trafficked like the women who have been forced into the sex trade in our own country. We are expected to empathize with them, as well as all those people whose circumstances entrap them in poverty so dire that they are unable to escape it.

The Passover Seder is a reminder that the final deliverance is yet to come. After the meal, we open our doors to Elijah the prophet, the harbinger of the messianic era; inviting him into our homes and into our hearts. This reminds us that the work of redemption is still incomplete. In every generation, we are enjoined to do all that we can; working as God’s partners to speed the day when every person will know the joy of liberation.

Thanking Things: A Thought for 2015

In “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” a quirky little book by Marie Kondo, the author describes her technique for eliminating clutter in our lives. She advocates that we should take hold of every single one of our possessions and ask ourselves if it “sparks joy”. If not, we are to thank it for its service to us and discard it.

Kodo’s suggestion that we express our gratitude to inanimate objects for their use, reminds me of the scene in the classic film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, in which a grizzly old prospector, played by Walter Houston, has his younger partners pause and turn around to say “goodbye” and “thanks” to the mountain where they have struck it rich.

It is also seems similar to the Jewish tradition of kissing prayer books and other sacred texts as a way of expressing our thanks and affection after we have finished using them.

While the idea that we should say thank you to ordinary objects that we no longer need or want sounds odd; I don’t think it’s silly. Rather, it seems like a practice that helps to cultivate an attitude towards life that is filled with acknowledged appreciation. Moreover, a person who gives thanks even to the objects in their life, will be likely to feel and express gratitude to other people as well.

The Jewish tradition teaches that true happiness doesn’t come from the acquisition of riches. It is to be found in appreciating what we already have. As Ben Zoma taught in Pirkai Avot: “Who is truly wealthy? One who rejoices in his or her portion.”

May this new year of 2015 be one in which we all cultivate appreciation and find new ways to express our gratitude to God and other people for the many blessings in our lives