Who or what is your Pharoah?
Last night I attended a community Seder at one of the synagogues in DC. I have been trying to find a “spiritual home” in the area, and I was encouraged to attend this event. Like all Seders, we went through the story of Passover, discussed the items on the Seder plate, and ate a lot. One of the nice things about this Seder is that it included the orange on the Seder plate and had a number of women-focused discussions; women are so often ignored or forgotten, historically, that it was really nice to see the inclusion (well, it is, after all, a Reform synagogue).
Another thing that we did was, at certain times during the Seder, talked among ourselves at the table. When we filled Miriam’s Cup, we talked about a woman who is important to us and why. Another time, during the story, we were encouraged to discuss who is our metaphorical Pharoah.
What did that question mean?
That was also somewhat open to interpretation, but she explained that she meant who is a person in your life, or what is a situation in your life, from whom/which you feel or felt enslaved.
Boy, did I have an answer to that.
I’ve discussed it in my blog before – the times of darkness I have gone through, the periods of my life when I wondered if things were ever going to get better, the hopelessness I felt when they did not. So to me, this Passover, where we celebrate the exodus of the Jews of Egypt, is especially meaningful to me.
Now, you don’t have to believe that it happened exactly as it was written; in fact, you don’t have to believe it happened at all. Let’s say it didn’t happen; isn’t the story of Passover still one that should cause us to stop and think about life, about enslavement (whether literal or metaphorical), about hope for the future? The fact that Passover happens in the Spring, which is traditionally known as a time of renewal of life, is no mistake. The Egypt we leave behind, the suffering we went through there, can be an actual geographical location or a place in our minds.
The metaphor can go further. When we choose to make a change from a situation in our lives that feels oppressing, we are excited, happy, hopeful. Then suddenly something happens, and we feel discontent, as the Jews did when they wandered the desert after escaping Pharoah and his army. Why such discontent? Why do we feel let down after the initial rush that change brings us? Why aren’t we in the “promised land” and without worry?
According to one rabbi, “Like the Israelites, we [too] need to be reformatted through the knowing pains and growing pains which come during the wilderness periods after major departures. This process adds valuable new experience and skills to the resume of our soul. We can recreate ourselves and attain the promised lands of our dreams.”
So that is what life is. Continually recreating ourselves, improving ourselves, and moving forward. The story of Passover is meaningful on so many levels, and if we pay attention, we can all see ourselves in it.