Passover as a Spiritual Journey

As Passover night draws near, I hope you are prepared. Simply taking out that Haggadah and “winging it” will not do. Study the Haggadah. Read it through several times this week before Seder (whether you are the leader or a participant–study).

You can click on the category “Passover” to the right to find a trove of articles about preparing for and thinking about the Haggadah. Today’s topic: our own story of redemption, liberation, and Exodus…

Two rabbis discussed the meaning of a tradition that was handed down to them by a prior generation, “Start with humiliation and lead to freedom.”

What did the sage mean who uttered these words? How does the Passover story begin with humiliation. One rabbi thought of what I might consider the obvious answer, “We should start with the story of slavery in Egypt.” But the other rabbi thought back further in Israel’s story, “No, we should start with the ancestors of the Patriarchs worshipping idols in ignorance of the Almighty.”

So the Haggadah tells the story both ways, to make sure the tradition is thoroughly covered.

That is the reason why, after “The Four Children” portion of the Haggadah, we get the following:

Originally our ancestors were worshippers of idols but then God drew us near to his worship. As it is said, “And Joshua proclaimed to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, God of Israel: In ancient days your ancestors dwelt on the other side of the river Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, and they served other gods. And I took your ancestor Abraham from the far side of the Euphrates river and I led him through the entire land of Canaan and I increased his descendants. And I gave him a son, Isaac. And I gave Isaac two sons, Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave Mt. Seit as an inheritance. Jacob and his clan went down to Egypt.’” (Joshua 24:2-4).

This is one perspective on Israel’s spiritual journey. We might say this is the long view.

Where did the journey begin, we might ask of our own story? In the long view, our spiritual quest did not begin with the circumstances leading right up to our awakening with God. Our story began long before with early childhood experiences (or maybe even with out ancestors).

Think about the long view of your own spiritual journey (not just how you came to believe in Messiah, but the story of the events and experiences that have shaped you into the present relationship you have with God:

–Do you see how God was preparing you (or maybe your parents or grandparents) long before you made some changes and decisions that brought you closer to God?

–What did you worship in competition with God in earlier times? Why did you worship these things?

–What about God got your attention? Did God show you something? Was it a person, place, event, experience, a combination, or many of these things?

–Can you chart your spiritual journey in several major steps?

I can do this for myself fairly easily, just to give you an example. I was raised by parents who wanted me to get a better education than they did. My parents were not scholars, but they provided me with books and learning opportunities my whole life. I grew up studying literature and science. And there was a good side and a bad side to all of this. Originally I worshipped my own ego, my own sense of intellectual ability. My identity was defined by ambition, competition, and a drive to be smarter than anyone else around me. I won’t pretend that I do not carry with me still a lot of this kind of thinking.

But when God got my attention, these were the very things he used to draw me in. I looked down on religious people as intellectually inferior. Yet I knew from literary study that the Bible, along with Greek mythology, was the leading backdrop of Western literature. And so I found myself reading the Bible in my early college days. And reading the Bible changed everything for me. I found an intellectually stimulating book, not a book of popular religion.

I could go on, but you see an example of my journey. Some people might, like me, have a journey that was about knowledge or realization. For others it might be much more emotional, experiential, or whatever.

But Passover calls us to think not only about Israel’s journey, but our own. God brought not only Israel out of Egypt, but us as well.

So then there is the second telling of the story, the one that begins with slavery:

And the Egyptians abused us . . . they afflicted us . . . and they subjected us to harsh servitude . . . We cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our affliction, our misery and our oppression . . .

And this is another way of looking at our story. It is the crisis perspective, looking at the things we needed saving from (and still do — let’s not kid ourselves about how far we have come).

It is good at Passover to think about these things also:

–What traps were we caught in? What dangers did we face (including judgment for sin)?

–How aware were we of our misery when we sought God? What was happening?

–How do we need him to save us over and over again? I don’t mean in the Christian sense of the word “save” as a technical term for becoming a part of God’s people. I mean, in what ways do we find again and again we need God’s forgiveness and help in escaping the worst tendencies in ourselves?

–Put our own issues into the following sentence: And _________ abused us and _________ was our affliction and __________ was my harsh servitude and we cried to the Lord . . .

This year, as you celebrate Passover, why not take a minute to journal about these things. And put your writing inside your favorite Haggadah. You’ll read it from year to year and maybe even add to it. It is your own personal Haggadah.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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