Today is the fourth of Nisan. I am convinced that days can tell us stories, although I don't know the story of this particular day. I don't know what plague was raining down on the Egyptians. I don't know if, on this day, Pharaoh's heart was open or had been hardened yet again, presaging even more hardship and heartache for the Children of Israel. I don't know how Moshe felt on this day-- was he weary beyond belief at having to defy a king and be a prophet of God? Was he frightened of the task that lay before him, bowed with the burden of all those lives? Was he grateful that his brother shared his work? And the people-- Egyptians and their slaves both-- was it just an ordinary day, with plagues? Or could they feel it too-- the gathering momentum that would lead to... change? To endings and beginnings?
And God. I won't be so bold or so presumptuous to speak for God, and His/Her relationship to the fourth of Nisan. I have learned to live with mystery, and even prefer it at times.
Calendars are funny things. They are not singular. Just ask yourself if Chanukah will be early or late this year. I smile a crooked and condescending smile at this-- Chanukah always falls on the twenty-fifth of Kislev. Always. It is neither early nor late. I am smug and obnoxious. I'm sure that whomever asked the question of me would banish me to the nether hells (at the very least) if it were possible. It's an annoying habit, I know, but it's mostly harmless, so I persist.
Calendars are funny-- and sometimes quite ironic. It is, in fact, 04 Nisan. The prompt we've been so lovingly given is "Free." It is also, under different skies than either modern Israel or ancient Egypt, the fourth of April.
I think it would be fitting if this were a national day of mourning.
He had this dream, you see, this amazing and wondrous dream, where we all of us lived our lives free from hatred, free from ignorance. Free from violence and need and despair. He believed it was in our grasp, that we could fulfill this vision, and just learn to love one another, create a world of peace, a world of freedom.
He was killed, because though he knew this may all have been within our grasp, we are not all of us free from hatred and ignorance and fear. Fear is a liar, and fear can kill.
So what are we to do? We are required, so the rabbis tell us, to celebrate Passover-- the holiday of redemption and freedom and renewal-- as if we ourselves have been brought out of the narrow spaces. Now. Then. Some admixture of all times, but totally present as it (when it) happened nevertheless. Calendars are funny things. They can bridge the chasm of millennia, so that we stand, shaken and rushed and fearful and joyous and free at last, ready to cross the wilderness on a promise, find a place and live a dream-- in the beat of our hearts, the breath of our bodies: we have been redeemed at last.
For I have taken you out of the land of Egypt, the House of Bondage... Laced throughout our liturgy, we chant these words every time we pray. Once we were slaves, now we are free. But the story doesn't end there. Sure-- we were freed, but with a purpose. Our covenant with God isn't just about what we get out of the deal. It's also about what we give, and the obligations we accept.
We are reminded,throughout our liturgy, that we are God's people. We are also reminded, again and again, of just what that means and how to live that, how to be b'tzelem Elohim (in the image of God): do what's right, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Care for people, especially those who may be struggling. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Be kind, don't turn a blind eye or walk idly by. Accept the stranger, those who are different from you, just as you would your neighbors, because we were strangers once; we know the shackles of otherness.
As we celebrate this glorious season, as we give thanks, once more, for the freedom we have been given, it is my hope and my prayer that we understand that our freedom is just the beginning. It is the jumping off place, so that we can continue the work and demand a world - create a world-- where we are all free.
Dr King, who died on this day in 1968, had a dream-- "And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Kein y'hi ratzon.
c Stacey Zisook Robinson
04 April 2014