Yom Rishon, 20 Nisan 5774
Hol Hamoed Pesach Sunday, 20 April 2014
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Read an inspired commentary on this week’s Torah portion by one of our free-thinking Liberal Rabbis.

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Parashat Chol Ha-Mo'ed Pesach
by Rabbi Pete Tobias
18th April 2014

THE RELUCTANT ESCAPEE
A story of the first ever Passover

There is an eerie darkness outside the walls of our home. It has been this way for more than an entire cycle of the moon now, but in recent days it has felt thicker, more oppressive. And so many other strange things have happened as well. Everything has stopped because of this. There is no more construction work being done. Here, in the settlement where the slaves dwell, there is relief that the days of hard labour and cruel beatings have ceased. But there is uncertainty also: an unease, because the security of our daily routine has been replaced by doubt and fear…

I have been told that here have been many secret conversations taking place by the wells, which are polluted with a thick red dust, and in the communal areas of our settlement where the women gather to cook bread. Talk of escape, of leaving this place of slavery that has been our home for more generations than any of us who are here now can remember. This is madness! Our taskmasters would beat anyone who was caught listening to such suggestions, and would execute anyone who spoke the words…

I look across the one-roomed dwelling that has been my home ever since the day of my birth in this place. My wife sits cross-legged in the corner preparing vegetables. By her side are several pieces of freshly-baked bread, looking strangely flat, as though they have been baked in haste. Next to them is a goatskin bag that one might wear on one’s back – is she preparing for a journey? Has she been influenced by the talk by the ovens where the bread is made?

As if hearing my silent question, she looks up at me. Her eyes shine brightly in the gloom. In them I see suffering, I see patience, I see despair. And she is pleading, pleading with me. Her imploring gaze shifts from my eyes to glance at our son. He stands in the doorway peering out into the gloom, as though waiting for whatever strange phenomenon will follow. After the insects, the strange hail and the thick, choking dust, who knows what might come next? Some say these happenings are the actions of an angry God – our God – taking revenge on Pharaoh for oppressing us. No one can say for sure. No one can say anything for sure in these difficult days. The only certainty is that out there is darkness. And in that darkness there is fear.

My wife’s eyes are locked once again onto mine, darting sporadically to the small boy at the door and then back to me. I know what she is saying. Do we wish for our son to experience the same life of servitude and cruelty that we and our parents and their parents faced? ‘What is the alternative?’ my eyes ask her, without needing to utter a word.

We know what is the alternative. It is a fearful and mysterious wilderness that lies beyond the edges of this settlement, a place of no water and no food; of blistering heat by day and chilling cold at night. It is a place of scorpions and wild beasts that offers only death as an alternative to the slavery we must endure here. I have heard some say that we will be free there. Of course we will be free. Free to die of thirst or hunger!

As we continue our silent conversation, she begging me to take us away from here, me pointing out that only death can be the consequence of such an action, our so moves from the doorway and surreptitiously snatches a piece of cucumber from the pile of vegetables his mother has prepared. He returns to the doorway with what he has captured, imagining that neither I nor his mother have seen him take it, and that we cannot see him chewing as he gazes out once more onto the bleak, dusty  landscape beyond our home.

‘We go.’ I cannot believe that I have uttered the words, and I look around, wondering if perhaps they were spoken by another. But I know they came from me. I know because I am looking now at my son, who has turned inquisitively from the entrance to our home to look at me. As I look at him, I know that I cannot condemn him to the life of slavery that has been my lot, and was the experience of so many generations before me.

My wife says nothing. She simply folds together the vegetables and the strange-looking bread and places them into the goatskin bag. Did she know? We did not speak about how she knew to prepare for this journey that we are now making, surrounded by our fellow slaves. Now there is no time to speak. We are

There are people in front of us and behind us, walking at speed, some even running, frightened that our taskmasters will yet chase after us.  But there is something going on behind us, something awful.  Screams fill the air.  We cannot go back.  We are going into the wilderness and leaving slavery behind.  We are so brave.  We are so foolish.  We are so scared. We know that we will die and we will never be heard of again.

And yet, if we should somehow live, if we and the generations of our people after us should one day find a new life and a land to call our own, I wonder, will they remember this day, this darkest of nights?  Will they be able to recall the fears, the doubts and the terror we all faced, walking away from our slavery, the place that had been our home for so long?

We are going into the wilderness, away from our slavery.  How will our descendants remember us?  Will they think of us as heroes, striding bravely into the night?  Or will they remember the fear and the terror, that moment of truth when we asked ourselves whether it was better to live as slaves or to risk death as a free people?  We are so brave.  We are so foolish.  We are so scared.  We are free.  Will you remember us?