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March 28, 2002

Leaving Mitzrayim

http://www.jewishjournal.com/torah_portion/article/leaving_mitzrayim_20020329

It was my third seder of the week, but this one was unlike any other. It was a "Seder of Women's Voices," and I felt privileged to be one of the few men in the room among a 150 or so women. At one point during the evening, the woman sitting next to me casually turned and asked me a simple question, and I couldn't stop thinking about it for the rest of the evening. "How did you become a feminist?" she asked, and then waited expectantly for my response.

"I grew up in a home with a mother and three sisters," I said, as if that somehow explained it all. Of course, even as I said the words I realized that they barely touched the surface of the numerous forces, experiences and influences that have gone into opening my own awareness to what she meant by "feminist."

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that being someone who accepts the equality of men and women as a given, and feeling that it is important to champion the need for women's too-often hidden voices to be heard and celebrated, has simply grown to be an unconscious expectation of my life. What other choice do we have, if we are to play a role in the messianic dreams of Jewish life? What other role model can I embrace as a rabbi, if I want both boys and girls who grow up in my congregation to feel equally empowered to experience Judaism as fundamentally their story, and their challenge to use it as a platform from which to know that they can truly make a difference in the world?

I thought of what to me is the most important idea in the Torah -- that all human beings are created in the image of God. I particularly felt the power of Godliness that night in the voices of women -- teaching, singing, reading, asking difficult and important questions about Jewish life in America -- including why so many people are turned off and away from synagogue life, and how we might use sacred moments to inspire us to work for the liberation and equality of all.

I prayed for women who were slaves to family violence, and men who were slaves to their own passions. I prayed for women who huddled with their children in hunger to be liberated from their poverty. I prayed for women, men and children who are enslaved by sickness and disease without medical insurance or the hope of healing.

In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106b) it is written, "The Blessed Holy One wants the heart." Embracing a life where men and women help each other to fulfill their destinies as creative, loving, expressive human beings who together can bring more godliness into the world, seems to me the only way to really open the heart to God's presence. This week, I realized that it has been over a year since my father's open-heart surgery. I think of that phrase from the Talmud every time I see him. God wants our hearts. But God wants them open, warm and loving.

Every year we read in the haggadah, that each of us is commanded to see ourselves as if we personally were liberated from bondage. Now I know that liberation takes many forms. For my father, "liberation from bondage" took the form of freeing his arteries from their personal Mitzrayim, the "narrow places" which had suddenly threatened his life. And as we shared the seder together, I was filled with awe and gratitude once again. Each of has our own Mitzrayim from which we need liberation. Facing our personal enslavements, and having the courage to embrace our own liberation, is ultimately the greatest challenge of every Passover.

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