Passover begins tonight. Once again we dive into the grand story of oppression and liberation. We relive the moment when God leads the Israelites out of Egypt and into a new freedom. The iconic image of crossing the parted sea becomes enshrined in Jewish prayer when we recite the words the awe-filled Israelites sang: Mi Chamocha, “Who is like You, O God??!!” That prayer ends by declaring God is our go’el, our Redeemer. And in the Jewish tradition this story becomes the archetype for the ultimate Redemption, the messianic age to come.
It’s surprising then to learn in a midrash (Midrash Mishlei on Proverbs 9:2) that most of the holidays, including Passover, will cease to be observed in the age of Redemption. The story that Jews have told for thousands of years will just evaporate into thin air, and Passover will no longer be a meaningful part of Jewish practice. How can this be? If after the original redemption from slavery we were so grateful we kept telling the story, why wouldn’t we continue to tell the story, whatever it may be, once we cross the murky sea of human behavior and leave behind the qualities of selfishness that enslave us in our age? Of all stories, that would seem to be the most remarkable one I can imagine!
The midrash that tells us holidays will disappear comes from a series of teachings on the concept of Wisdom, or as the rabbis preferred to call her, Torah. I think we are meant to understand that each Jewish holiday has a particular wisdom to offer us, not just a good story to celebrate. That wisdom helps us interpret our more recent history and current events. Together, the holidays guide us through our seasons, our lives, our generations. In the messianic age, much of that wisdom will not be necessary in an external form, because it will have been so deeply internalized and acted upon that we no longer need to learn the lesson.
Of all the holidays, only two will continue forever – Yom Kippur and Purim. These mirror images of solemnity and silliness, of introspection and interpersonal drama, offer us the wisdom that as images of an infinite God, we have infinite layers. Putting on masks on Purim and taking them off on Yom Kippur symbolizes the human as a creature of depth and growth, a creature always evolving and returning. Even in the messianic age, we will learn and grow and explore and change and return and discover yet more facets of our identity and God’s.
Passover, on the other hand, offers us the wisdom of recognizing oppression in its many forms. Telling the Passover story is a way of dressing in the garb of justice, taking the outstretched arm of Lady Liberty, and moving towards freedom, one by one until we all sing the same song. We are told this wisdom won’t be necessary once we are all free. This is a story whose best possible ending is to be forgotten as irrelevant. That day may come, but it will be far far off from now.
In what way will your Passover seder and storytelling help you move towards freedom? How can you help others move towards freedom in the coming year?