When Thomas Cahill wrote his insightful book, The Gifts of the Jews several years ago, he made the case that a group of Hebrew nomads changed the value system of this world. If you ask Jewish people who really understand that this is more a people of ideas than a faith, that Judaism is more sociology than it is liturgy, then you will learn that our story begins not with creation but with freedom.
Passover, the annual conclave of ancestral yearning and commitment begins at sundown Monday evening.
‘We’ve been marching for freedom, from Egypt to Washington.’
We have been pushing for freedom, from the original civil rights march in Egypt to the March on Washington. And we meet around the table every spring to renew our dream with stories and songs.
Passover is the best gift we ever gave to the world; nobody who was ever a human being could turn down its message of liberty, its transformation of the taste of tears into the wine of hope, its view of the leaves of parsley as the springtime of redemption.
It whispers to you, this Passover, as the winter is receding, and you are cleaning out the drawers of your household and the chambers of your soul. It beckons to you at the Seder table with the lyrics of your ancestors. It calls to you from the troubled, ancient shores of the Nile, and it has been heard about in our time along the Rhine and the Mississippi and so many other rivers of hate.
It awakens you with the symphonies of benevolence that have played—from a single set of Egyptian bulrushes, where baby Moses hid, to the learning academies of Babylon to the teaching tents of Africa to the spiritual pagodas of China to the caring sanctuaries of Europe to the underground railroads of so many freedom campaigns.
It is relevant for every child of every color ever born of a mother who knew how to give the milk of kindness.
When you hear the voices of your parents; when you hear the music of your heritage; when you hear the singing of springtime birds; when you hear the speech of your lover; when you hear your heart telling you to care; when you hear the bells of freedom; that is when you are hearing the old story.
And when you are moved by these melodies, and inspired by these ideas, then you are truly marching, like the Hebrews, to the freedom land.
[Adapted from my book, Thinking Passover, Dutton, 1997. Available on Amazon.com]