Tonight marks the first night of Passover which commemorates the journey from slavery to freedom of the Jews in Egypt who were compelled to work at the peril of their own lives. Jews around the world (and others who are invited guests as they were in my childhood home) will gather to celebrate and engage in a ritual dinner called a seder (which translates to ‘order’ in Hebrew.) For those not familiar (if you watched the Hollywood blockbuster The Ten Commandments, you will have some idea) with the history of the holiday, it originated as a result of the Pharoah being afraid that the Jews of the time would become so numerous that they would overthrow his rule. He issued an edict that the first born males of the Jewish families were to be murdered. Moses; the hero of the Passover story was placed in a basket and sent down the river Nile to protect him from this fate, by his mother and sister and was subsequently found by the daughter of the Pharoah and raised as her own son. These, I consider the ‘sheros’ of the tale.
As a child, I sat at the table while my father (who conducted what I came to call ‘speed seder’, since most traditional Passover meals which include the service can last for hours and we completed the formal part in less than 30 minutes) began reading from the Haggadah. Ours were the dog-eared over the years Maxwell House version which I can still see in my mind’s eye. One by one, we took turns reading our own portions of the ceremony. The food, the wine (grape juice for those who didn’t otherwise indulge), the songs, time with family and friends, the message of miracles and redemption all combined to make it a memorable experience
The Ten Plagues are an integral part of the seder and some question whether they occurred as is portrayed in the book of Exodus or if they were symbolic.
1. Blood – The waters of Egypt are turned to blood. All the fish die and water becomes unusable.
2. Frogs – Hordes of frogs swarm the land of Egypt.
3. Gnats or Lice – Masses of gnats or lice invade Egyptian homes and plague the Egyptian people.
4. Wild Animals – Wild animals invade Egyptian homes and lands, causing destruction and wrecking havoc.
5. Pestilence – Egyptian livestock is struck down with disease.
6. Boils – The Egyptian people are plagued by painful boils that cover their bodies.
7. Hail – Severe weather destroys Egyptian crops and beats down upon them.
8. Locusts – Locusts swarm Egypt and eat any remaining crops and food.
9. Darkness – Darkness covers the land of Egypt for three days.
10. Death of the Firstborn – The firstborn of every Egyptian family is killed. Even the firstborn of Egyptian animals die.
I love the idea of symbolism and detect it in my own life on a daily basis. Lately, I have noticed that I have become a near merciless task master when it comes to my own expectations for my productivity and standards. There was a time in my life when I was nowhere near as fastidious as I am now and in some ways, feel as if I am overcompensating for those choices I made out of fear, not being sure how to move past it. I carry an invisible whip (some of my friends can see it) with which I flagellate myself as a means of spurring myself on to greater feats. One friend told me lovingly yesterday that since we are all connected, all One, when I beat myself, it is like I am beating her. That made it easier to cast down the weapon I have used to my own detriment, since I would never do to another what I have done to myself.
I also see Passover as a journey from darkness to light, from fear to safety, from doubt to ultimate trust that I will cross the Red Sea safely and be fed manna from Heaven. I am my own Moses as I free myself.
http://youtu.be/JCy4-_DaacI The Best Seder in the USA
Photo Credit: www.everystockphoto.com Robert Couse-Baker