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March 24, 2017  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Hear their cries

Congegation Beth Am, Tampa

Despite the endless comments and jokes about “2 or 3 day a year Jews” who only show up for the High Holy Days, research has shown that the most observed moment of the Jewish calendar is actually the Passover seder.

As our Festival of Freedom begins, countless Jews will crowd around their tables to retell the story of the Exodus. And, as the Haggadah reminds us, we aren’t just supposed to retell the story – we’re supposed to relive it. People are obligated to believe that they themselves were freed from Egypt. It’s only by placing ourselves within the story, by coming to truly believe that it’s our story, will the lessons of the story really take root.

And, what are those lessons? One way to understand them comes from Rabbi Aryeh Cohen in his wonderful book Justice In The City. Rabbi Cohen points out what few seemed to have noticed: there is a recurrent motif in the Exodus story. A motif of crying out.

Over and over again, our Torah tells us that our people cried out. And, every time that anyone in the story cries, they are met with one of two responses. Either their cries are heard by God, and God is moved to action. God responds to the cries – responds to the pain of others – by doing what can be done to alleviate that pain. Or, their cries are heard by Pharaoh, who ignores them. Pharaoh does nothing, no matter how many cries he hears, no matter how much pain is brought to his door.

And, Rabbi Cohen teaches, the point is that we each have a choice to make. Do we want to respond like God, or do we want to respond like Pharaoh? In the end, there are no other choices.

We are all surrounded by people who are crying out. We are surrounded by people who are in pain, in big and little ways. It might be someone in our own lives, or someone we pass on the street, or someone that we only hear about in the news. Our world is filled with people in need. And, every time we encounter them, every time we hear their cries (whether literally or figuratively), we are faced with that choice: do we want to act like God, or do we want to act like Pharaoh? Do we want to really hear those cries, and let ourselves be moved to action? Do we want to do whatever we can to help alleviate that pain? Do we want to be guided and driven by love and compassion for the other?

Or, do we want to turn away from those cries, and ignore the pain. Do we want to be modern day Pharaohs?

I hope that everyone is lucky enough to have a wonderful seder (or two). I hope that your homes are filled with good food, people you love, laughter, song, and prayer. And, I hope that, when the seder is over, we get up from the table ready to go back out into the world, willing to respond to the cries of those in need.

Hag Pesach sameach – a good Pesach to us all.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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