The Journey of Passover, by Hanna Perlberger
As a kid, I never questioned this whole thing about the matzoh – that when we left Egypt so quickly we didn’t have time for the dough to rise (which is only 18 minutes by the way). But I wonder about it now. I’m trying to picture the scene of three million people leaving a country on foot. No one made leavened bread before they left? As the call was sounded to leave, everyone was in the process of preparing dough at that moment – and then had to cook it unleavened? We took the wealth of Egypt with us, we took tambourines, the bones of Joseph. We dug up the trees that Abraham had planted hundreds of years ago. How did we have to time to manage that, but not let the dough rise? Something just doesn’t add up for me.
After asking around, (OK, so I asked just one rabbi who smiled and shrugged), I gave up on getting the answer, because I decided there wasn’t much of a question. We took what they needed – nothing more and nothing less. It was simple, really. We took matzoh, we took gold silver and wood to build the tabernacle, tambourines to celebrate, Joseph’s bones to bury in Israel, etc., because that is what we needed for our spiritual and material mission.
Despite the saying that we should simply let go of our baggage, imagine how you would feel if you arrived at the baggage claim of the airport and your baggage was lost? You’d be upset – right? The point is not just to let go of your baggage, but to make sure that you have packed well, that you are taking what you need and not forgetting what’s important. When we left Egypt, we had baggage, alright, but we had packed well.
Ask yourself – what in your life are you carrying around that you don’t need anymore or that doesn’t fit who you are now? What are you forgetting or reluctant to take on that does fit you now, or maybe the person you are becoming? There is only so much room, so much time, and so many resources. What are you giving the space of your life to? What are you trading the limited time of your life for?
Another aspect of the hasty departure is the issue of timing. Our tradition states that we were at the 49th level of spiritual impurity – if we stayed any longer, we would have reached the 50th level, from which we could not have been redeemed. So, besides taking what we needed for the journey, we could not delay and we could not be indecisive. The Jews who didn’t want to leave Egypt (the majority of them, incredibly) had died during the plague of darkness.
We aren’t often presented with choices that have fatal consequences like that. But we often struggle with decisions and get paralyzed and stay in abusive relationships, dead-end jobs, lead unfulfilled lives, etc. We smell spring in the air – and don’t want to leave the warm cave. We want to be caterpillars forever. We hear the urgent whisper inside us – the same voice that tells the blade of grass to grow – and we tune it out. We may be physically alive but are we spiritually dead?
So the lesson of Passover for me is twofold. First, I need to know when it’s time to go, time to move on, time to expand my horizons, time to embrace a new reality, and to make peace with uncertainty. And secondly, I need to know what to take with me on my journey, namely, what set of beliefs and thoughts should I leave behind and what set of beliefs and thoughts will serve me best as I walk out of the narrow confines of Egypt and into my vast unfolding date with holiness? When our sages say that we should remember the leaving of Egypt every day in our prayers, maybe this is why – so that we can decide every day when to step out of what’s not working for us, how to walk towards holiness and what to take for the trip.
Hanna Perlberger, J.D., B.C.C.
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