Let Your Pharaoh Go!

| holidays, musings |

Passover is approaching. This weekend, during a picnic on a beautiful Spring day, I was explaining to a friend who doesn’t have much knowledge of Jewish holidays why Passover is my favorite: “It’s an easy metaphor. No need to invoke the mystics, you don’t need to get all hippie about it, it’s perfectly set up to remind you of your own personal journey…” Freedom, liberation, just the simple and uncontested translation of the Hebrew word for Egypt as a “narrow space,” how can you not get deep?

This weekend I did my own version of the hunt for chametz (leavened anything, in preparation for a house free of bread, crumbs, etc), spring cleaning, serious Passover prep- mostly because it just feels good. The weather in Brooklyn has changed. It seemed obvious: Spring is here, sandals are on, flowers are blooming, sun is shining, and now the floors are mopped, the bathtub is scrubbed, and the dresser drawers are full of warm weather clothes. Now that my home is prepared for Passover (and sunshine), I’m getting to work on my inner self.

This Thursday is the JMC “Getting in the Mood… for Passover” workshop, which is going to be fun (check the calendar for details!). Ben Ross and I are co-leading it and the focus will be on Pharaoh- the bad guy of the Pesach narrative. What can we learn from Pharaoh? How do we share qualities that Pharaoh exhibits in the story, and what can learn from that? We’ve also prepared a JMC Passover Haggadah Insert that you can email, print, bring to your Seder or use on your own– check it out on JMC Resources page!

Over the weekend, I was teaching first graders about the Passover holiday and besides spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to explain what “bitter” means (finally one little boy said “OH, like when you chew gum for a long time and then you get that bad taste in your mouth!” – insights of six-year-olds thrill me), we wound up talking a lot about Pharaoh. One part of the Exodus story that resonated with the kids is when Pharaoh changes his mind. He finally relents, probably with much suffering and sadness as Egyptian boys are killed by the tenth plague, and then when the Israelites are running toward freedom, he decides he doesn’t actually want to let them go. On my walk home from the first grade class, I kept coming back to this switch. Feeling forced to make a decision, not having time to really think, I can totally relate to this moment of changing your mind. Even though, to us, letting the Israelites go is obviously the right thing to do, this was not a clear direction for Pharaoh.

While cleaning and hunting for hidden chametz in my house, I mindfully created some space to think about what stuff might be muddling my mind. What is keeping me from being able to see clearly, to make the right choices that benefit the world? Passover is a perfect opportunity to reflect on these sorts of questions. Not being aware and considering our actions and reactions in relation to others can enslave us. With the goal of finding freedom, let’s use Passover to clean out our cabinets and mental compartments, let some sun into the darkest, narrowest places within, and let our own inner Pharaoh go.