Priestly ordination: hearing, doing, walking (Radical Torah repost)
A poem that makes me weep

Exiting Mitzrayim

One more quick Blessing the Sun note: Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal community of Jerusalem (about whom I have posted before; here's my review of their latest cd) has posted music for the blessing of the sun. At that website you can stream audio-only or you can watch them perform the tunes via YouTube. Whether or not you're planning to learn their music in time for Birkat ha-Chamah, it's beautiful stuff and well worth a listen.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs has posted a pdf designed to be a haggadah bookmark, which contains a short text about exiting the Mitzrayim (narrow place) of despair in these dark financial times. It's here: Escape from the New Mitzrayim [pdf].

I've been thinking lately about what constitutes the personal Mitzrayim from which I need liberation this year. I want to be liberated from feeling myself constricted by things that are tough: the economy, finances, health problems plaguing people I love. Facing the economic nightmare is difficult. Facing the reality that we live in fragile bodies which don't always work is difficult. When I'm at my best, I think I can respond to these truths with equanimity and grace. But lately I've struggled with overwhelm, which is self-perpetuating. It's hard to wake up with modah ani ("I am grateful before You...") on my lips when I'm feeling like the tough stuff is hemming me in.

Again I return to the distinction between ontology and epistemology, between the way things "actually are" and the way I perceive them to be. The ontology of the situation isn't likely to change anytime soon, and beyond that, it's not under my control. I can't change the world financial situation. I can't change the reality that we live in bodies which break. What I can change is my reaction to things-as-they-are. I can change how I experience them, by committing myself to recognizing that I can feel expansive, liberated, grateful even though the world isn't always an easy place to live.

Everything hangs on that even though. I have to find a way to feel grateful for the innumerable blessings in my life even though other things are tough. I have to find a way to understand (again) that I'm always already liberated, that the freedom we celebrate at Pesach is always real. That's what redemption means. We speak in our liturgy about God Who redeems us from slavery -- that's always ongoing.

In every generation we're commanded to see ourselves as though we, ourselves, had been liberated from Mitzrayim. This year, I think my Mitzrayim is the feelings of overwhelm in which I've allowed myself to become constricted. Pesach offers me a reminder, and an opportunity, to commit myself to breaking free. (If this way of thinking is fruitful for you, I'd love to see others' responses to the question of "from what do you need to be liberated this year" -- as comments on this post, or as posts on your own blogs.)

That said: as much as I love the reading of the Pesach story which holds that we can understand the  Exodus as a parable of self-actualization and liberation from internal constriction, there's a danger in that reading. One can become so absorbed in navel-gazing that one forgets that the entire world is in need of redemption. Rabbi Jill's haggadah insert reminds me of that. She writes:

By giving tzedakah, by working for policies that will create opportunity for everyone, and by helping to create a more just society, we too can make the divine presence evident among us, even – or especially – in difficult times, and will lift ourselves collectively out of the narrowness of Mitzrayim.

The Exodus was a corporate experience. Our story tells us that the Israelites and a "mixed multitude" left Egypt together, fleeing constriction and heading toward a new life of liberation and covenant. My own personal story of liberation each year has to be balanced with an awareness of our communal story of liberation -- and with the obligation to act to help lift others out of constriction, too.

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