The Exodus never ended. The historic journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is over. But the existential state of exodus continues. Sometimes we are moving away from and other times we are moving toward it. And the key to life might be in our ability to live in the advance rather than as an exit.
The Hebrews were birthed as a people when they emerged from the bloodied doorposts of their homes. The angel of death passed over. The people passed through. Then the journey began.
Jews are not the only people to flee oppression. Throughout history, people have moved from the narrowness of repression to the expansiveness of freedom. Even today, we are witness to the migration of North African and Near Eastern refugees seeking safety in Europe. Millions of Ukrainians have fled war for safety in other countries.
The Jewish story includes an outstretched arm of God. The people were whisked away on eagles’ wings. The outstretched arm and the eagles’ wings have not reappeared for us or any other groups of imperiled peoples. The outstretched arms are now human, and the eagles’ wings today are planes, boats, and trains.
Understood as an advancement, the Exodus story is also a genesis story. Torah gives us a prototype demonstrating to the world that the ideal human experience is expansive and free. Once the principle was established, God left it to humans to repeat the pattern. At this task, humans have failed miserably.
Jews frequently focus on our exodus stories. We were exiled from Israel to Babylonia, and again by the Romans to even further reaches of the world. Spain expelled its Jews. For European Jews who survived the Shoah, the Promised Land was a beacon. And for Jews of Arab lands, their expulsion in the 1950s and 1960s brought them to Israel too.
Perhaps a story to tell at the Passover seder is our ability to reimagine the future. We can persevere and, if necessary, migrate, if we sustain hope. The dream of a Promised Land is about sustaining a positive attitude because we can adapt to new realities.
The next exoduses are already upon us. Ecological disasters and climate change will bring environmental migrations. Power-hungry autocracies will invade and conquer peaceful neighbors causing widespread displacements. The seder is a reenactment to teach the world how to emerge into a better future.
Advancement requires preparedness. How can we best prepare ourselves and our planet for the next Exodus? Are we nimble in our thinking? Can we adapt to new situations? Are we willing to extend ourselves to others in need?
We anchor ourselves deeply to our homes and our nation-states. Exodus teaches us that there is no permanent residence. Rather, there are cycles of migration and dislocation. At this year’s seder, I’ll be thinking about the elements of resilience that make an exodus possible. And how I can stretch out my arms to aid others in the throes of an Exodus story of their own.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame