Passover Reflection 2010, by Rabbi Julie Schwartz, Temple Emanu-El, Atlanta, GA
Finitude—a word that describes the most basic struggle for human creatures. We wrestle with the reality that we are not in control and that our limits define our existence. Healthy individuals are able to tolerate those things which are clearly beyond our grasp and then to manage respectfully those which are within our domain. Eventually we recognize that living gracefully within our boundaries may be the best indicator of a faithful life.
For a Jew, the Passover celebration focuses us on the concept of freedom. When we are most honest, we realize that no one is truly free; we all face restrictions based upon our physical, emotional, and intellectual limitations. No society is truly free as every community is dependent upon forces beyond its control for its sustenance and safety. So the hardest adult lesson about freedom is the acceptance of the ways that we are free and the ways that we will never be free. Then we can accept the challenge of using fully and wisely the freedom that we truly do possess.
In the Exodus story, God's ultimate power provides freedom for the Israelites to take responsibility for their lives and their decisions. They must learn the difference between freedom and licentiousness. And as they live out their new lives as free people, they can embrace the excitement and richness that comes from the consequences of their actions. They can be in charge of so many new things. They can accept that God is in charge of so many other things.
As we reach out to those who cannot imagine freedom in their daily lives, we become aware of the power that we have to give freedom to others. Providing education and direction means that others may be freed from those who misuse their positions of power and control. In turn, women and men who escape lives of abuse can know freedom and their own power.
The Passover holiday must be celebrated each year not because we forget the story and its meaning. Rather, if we are actively engaged in our faith journeys then its annual observance teaches us where we are in the challenge of using our freedom well. At the same time, we rejoice as we assist others to take their first steps into freedom. And we can give thanks to the One who gave us the blessing of freedom along with the gift of discernment.
Rabbi Julie S. Schwartz
Ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, Rabbi Schwartz was the first woman rabbi to serve as a chaplain in the United States military and she received the Navy Commendation Medal. She was the third rabbi to earn certification as a Clinical Pastoral Educator and served as the Associate Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at HUC-JIR.
She is currently the Rabbi for Temple Emanu-El, an 800 family member congregation in Atlanta, Georgia.