Passover is rich in social justice themes. It is impossible to study the story of our redemption and not feel compelled to eradicate injustice in the world today. …
Torah commands us to teach our children, “It is because of what God did for me when I went forth from Egypt,” creating an immediate connection between the text and our lives today. (Pesach: A Season for Justice)
Through commemoration of the exodus, we are reminded of our status as strangers in the land. By placing ourselves into the story, we are challenged to remember what it was to be slaves and what God’s deliverance has meant for us. We also are challenged to see the ways in which slavery continues to exist, and to wrestle with modern-day injustice, oppression, and slavery.
The United Jewish Communities Rabbinic Cabinet’s “Matzah of Unity” reading reflects on some of the Passover elements and the connection to be drawn to our many obligations to work toward a better world:
…We dip into the salt water of tears — and remind ourselves to care for the oppressed.
We eat the bitter herbs — and sharpen our concern for the stranger.
We taste the matzah, the bread of affliction — and feel the memories of our servitude to Pharaoh.
We note the roasted egg, symbolic of the extra offering in the Temple in ancient days — and ask ourselves, what are our own sacrifices?
While observance of Passover varies from household to household, there are some common observances that hold particular poignancy as we reflect on modern-day slavery.
Bread of Affliction
The reading concerning the Bread of Affliction not only provides the primary textual inspiration for feeding the hungry during Passover, but also calls for an end to slavery, which continues to exist around the world in various forms. It prompts diverse communities to join together, recognizing the common experience of slavery.
As we recall the scarcity for those fleeing Egypt, taking only what they could carry, including bread unleavened because there was not time to thoroughly prepare it, we are reminded of those fleeing modern-day slavery with only the clothes on their back, and their similar need for provisions today!
Four Cups of Wine
The four cups are derived from four expressions of redemption found in Exodus 6:6-7:
- “I will bring you out;”
- “I will deliver you;”
- “I will redeem you;” and
- “I will take you.”
Note the positive, redemptive focus of each phrase! Rabbis for Human Rights suggests the following four interpretations for the four cups:
- The First Cup: Freedom [within an adopted home]
- The Second Cup: Deliverance [in one’s promised home]
- The Third Cup: Redemption from Overwork and Underwork
- The Fourth Cup: Liberation from Slavery All Over the World
As we celebrate this Holy Week, let us not neglect its Passover roots and the call for us to deeply personalize God’s work of redemption. As we commemorate God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt, let us ask why so many people are still enslaved today, and what our role is in recognizing this reality and working to end it. Let us see in ourselves and everyone we encounter the image of God in which He created us, and do all in our power to see it fully restored.