31 March 2010

Musings on Passover

Monday night was the first night of passover, and in India, this year it corresponded to a full moon festival for Hanuman, the monkey god. I have just returned, and am busy cleaning my apartment, which has been gathering dust for 2 months (yes, all the windows were closed, but still, somehow, the outside enters). I've also been going to all my favorite restaurants that i've missed the past 2 months. And although I was volunteering for American Jewish World Service when last I was here, I was thinking that passover would come and go for me.

As it turned out, I went to 2 seders, and it was one of the more meaningful Passovers I've experienced.

I do like Passover, as I like many of the calendar-based Jewish holidays. It's an opportunity, at certain times of the year, to do some introspection and self-examination. It's a chance to check in, each year, think about the past year, and set intentions for the coming year. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur in the fall are a time to think about sin and redemption. The Hebrew word for sin means "to miss the mark", as in an arrow. During the high holidays, we can look at the ways in which we've missed the mark, not lived up to our expectations of ourselves, and set the intention to come a little closer next time. It's not about punishment; it's about self-improvement; always trying to be a better person. While this is a daily activity, the fall holidays gives me a chance to put some focus on that endeavor.

Passover, on the other hand, is all about freedom.

Of course, we tell the story of the Jewish exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt, which may or may not be true, (some say it was written during the Jewish exile in Babylonia, to give hope to the people that they would return to Israel someday. (we were exiled once before, and we returned, so it will happen again.) The reason that this idea appeals to me is that it changes our notion of how the ancient Jews entered the promised land. Instead of a people coming in from the outside and conquering the people living there, another narrative emerges.

In ancient Israel, there were many peoples, with many gods. But in any society, there are outliers, misfits, square pegs for the round holes (do I sound like an Apple commercial?). Individuals were coming up with new ideas that didn't fit the mainstream. Ideas like taking care of the poor, living ethically, working for peace, the importance of education etc, began to emerge in individuals. These people were not appreciated by the others; eventually they left and gathered together. They became a group of people brought together by the similarities of their ideas, by a new way of thinking. These people became the Israelites. They started the first conscious community, gathering together in a common purpose, for freedom and equality and truth and knowledge.

I realize that this theory of the origins of the Israelites is, well, un-orthodox, but all of the bible (and much of life) is symbolism to me, and I appreciate the symbolism of a home grown conscious community far more than stories of a war-like people conquering a land. Of course, those war like stories are great if you are a people in exile, as the Jews were later in Babylonia. They are inspirational and helped people feel that they could and would fight back. But when it comes to how origin stories can be meaningful to our lives today, I much prefer the idea of the community of misfits.

But I digress.

As we tell the story of the Passover, the exodus from slavery into freedom, we are inspired to think of notions of freedom and slavery as they affect us today. What freedoms do i enjoy, and how can I be more grateful and appreciative of them? How can I not waste the opportunities they provide? In what ways do I enslave myself, through a lack of self-confidence, through mindless habits, through negative reactive patterns which cause me to robotically react to situations instead of authentically responding to them. How can I become more authentic, live in the moment, and act through love and not fear? And in what ways do my actions enslave others, either personally or politically? These are all questions I like to ponder during the Passover season.

As the great Jewish/Hindu mystic Ram Dass has said, the goal is not to get high. the goal is to get free.

to be continued...

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