Passover and Easter: A Message of Freedom and Responsibility
The great lesson of the biblical account of the liberation and exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt centers on the concept of freedom. There is a biblical verse that clearly defines it. At the end of his days, Moses summons the younger generation to renew the covenant with God that had been made by their ancestors. As presented in the Book of Deuteronomy, his listeners were the people who were to overcome Canaan, settle there, and establish a society in which the rules and laws they had received in the desert should be implemented. They were a generation who had been born in freedom and who, unlike their parents, had not been traumatized by enslavement. Moses admonishes them to fulfill the precepts that God had commanded them, proclaiming very significantly that they have become the people of the One and Only God, who maintains covenantal fidelity with those who love God and keep the commandments of God (Deuteronomy 27:9). Freedom is not merely leaving the condition of enslavement. This is necessary but is insufficient for a fully dignified existence. There must also be a commitment to transcendent values that enable former slaves from remaining enslaved to their own passions and selfishness.
These values include serving God by caring for Creation and by respecting and loving the other human beings with whom life is shared. The covenanted people must also not idolize the deified projections of human instincts, or consecrate themselves to the ways of deified human dictators such as Pharaoh or Caesar or the despots of the last century or today. This is the challenge presented by God to those freed from the Egyptian yoke.
Among other commands, Chapter 25 of Leviticus presents laws about how resources and goods should be distributed in ancient Israel. Ownership of the ancestral family land had to be preserved. When someone fell into poverty and had to serve another for their livelihood, his relatives and friends had to rescue him from such a situation. The basis for all such laws is found in the last verse of the chapter: “Because the Children of Israel are servants to Me, My servants whom I have freed from the land out of Egypt. I the Lord am your God.”
The Bible recounts that after Moses received the commandments on Mount Sinai, he returned to the people only to find that they had built a golden calf to worship. Their minds were still shackled to slavish thoughts. Barely forty days had passed since God had been revealed to them on Mount Sinai, amid magnificent manifestations of nature. With the loud thunder of the shofar announcing the majestic presence of the Creator, the commandments were bestowed upon the people. Yet their returning to mindless servitude through the golden calf shows us the fragility of the human mind and spirit. What was awe-inspiring and transformative at one point can quickly fade away. Even today, after many liberation processes throughout human history, human slavery still continues to lacerate people in many places.
The prophet Elijah, who lived during the reign of Ahab king of Israel (8th century BCE), posed the following pointed question to the people gathered around him on Mount Carmel: “How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow the Lord; if you are with idols, then follow them!” (1 Kings 18:21). This verse portrays the swings and vacillations of human behavior. There are times when the standards of liberty, equality, and fraternity are raised, and others when they are trampled on in the most heinous way. The same Europe that raised those values in the 18th century in the times of the Enlightenment, ignored them and tried to erase them in the 20th century. This explains the biblical insistence on remembering every day of life the story of the departure from Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:3).
The Argentine poet Arturo Capdevila understood the importance of Passover for both Jews and Christians. He includes in his 1965 book, Dios otra vez (God Again) a poem called “Canto al sitial de Elías” (“Song to the Seat of Elijah”), in which he describes a gloomy Passover dinner at the home of a Jewish friend while Europe was embroiled in the Shoah:
“The world that believed in Good has expired, / and for Love and Justice it was thirsty! / Secrets of the Abyss. . . Zion is worthless. / And neither is Bethlehem. "
At the end, the poet puts these words into the mouth of the prophet Elijah:
“Faithful hope will have its feast! / Almost there. My Passover will come: / my clear Jerusalem Passover / The wind will pass singing loves / over the waters of Gennesaret. / The whole Holy Land in those days / will be like an orchard.”
The hope raised by the poet affirms the deep common spirituality between Jews and Christians. He yearns that the three-millennial Jewish message of Pesach and the two-millennial Christian message of Easter will not fail, despite the horrors and lapses that constantly occur. It is this same hope and commitment that Jews and Christians take up year after year at this time. May we all choose the path that God desires and may God bless our shared hopes speedily and in our days!