Writing Practice: Leaving Egypt Behind

Every year when we sit down to begin our Seder, I look around the table, amazed at the effort that it took for all of us–family and friends– to come together.

We have finished cleaning and shopping and cooking and preparing the Seder table. It’s time to open the Hagaddah and recite Kiddush over the First Cup, and then read the first words of the story: “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.”

Each year I’m awed by the sound of these words, the first words of the Hagaddah, as they ring out across the ages. They are words that sing of our people’s endurance and faith, and they remind me as we wash our hands, lift our cups, break our matzah, dip our herbs, open the door for Elijah, and sing our favorite song about the little goat that we have been given a precious gift.

On Passover, we celebrate not only our gift of freedom but the gift of being Jews and sharing a memory of communal faith in whatever it is that supports us as we step into the unknown, one foot after the other, day after day, year after year, century after century.

Imagine what it must have felt like to leave Egypt. We abandoned everything we knew–the comfort of a regular routine, a place to cook, eat, share stories, make love, and sleep every night–all for an unknown future.

Freedom meant learning to live with not knowing where we’d settle the next night or the night after that, not knowing where we’d find food or ways to defend ourselves or a clear path into the wilderness.

For hundreds of years we lived as slaves. How could we have stepped away from all that we knew? How could we have gone from the heartache of slavery to full independence in one night? How could we have taken such a huge leap of faith from the known to the unknown–into the sea and beyond?

Every year, as we prepare for our Seder, it’s a struggle to leave behind whatever I’m doing, to pick up stakes and move on, so that I can focus on the holiday. And then for the week of the holiday it’s a struggle to forego hametz and eat matzah. But then I remember that we managed centuries ago to pack up our belongings and put one foot in front of the other and make our way into the unknown.

Egypt became a memory, a place to go back to one day, and our future became our destination, the place where we could find the freedom to become whoever we were meant to be.

What will you do with your freedom this year? How will you live your life as a Jew now that you are no longer a slave?

Will you celebrate the many possibilities waiting for you? Or will you mourn the past and all that you left behind?

Before taking another step, can you pause a moment and write about the challenges of stepping into the unknown?

How does freedom give you the opportunity to explore a new, different side of yourself?

What does it feel like to look at the world after leaving Egypt now that you’ve passed through the sea and reached dry land on the other side?

Can you hear the lamentations of those still unwilling to leave Egypt behind?

Or do you hear the joyous sound of Miriam and the women dancing with their timbrels and singing the Song of the Sea?

Bruce Black

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish identity, Passover, writing practice

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