By Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Passover is the celebration of the Israelite freedom from slavery 3,500 years ago. The holiday pays homage to the idea of achieving human freedom from oppression, a message that is to be remembered and relived year after year and from generation to generation. Yet, when we examine the story as told on the night of Passover, it is not a complete retelling of the Bible’s version of redemption.
During the recitation of the Haggadah, which contains the special liturgy and study for Passover night, there is a glaring absence. Moses, the one appointed by G-d to redeem the Israelites from Egypt, is mentioned only one time in the entire night’s service. Further, the one time when Moses’ name appears is not a substantial description; rather it is quoting from a verse that happens to mention Moses by name. In direct contrast to the story the Torah describes, the Haggadah emphasizes G-d’s role as redeemer, even to the extent of saying, “Not by the hands of an angel, not by the hands of a seraph, not by the hands of a messenger, but the Holy One, Blessed is He Himself in His own Glory,” redeemed the Israelites.
Why would Moses be de-emphasized on the night of Passover, when his role in Israelite history is prominent? After all, Moses is the prophet of prophets, the one whom G-d spoke to face-to-face. While it is true that Passover night is about G-d’s protection and guardianship, as emphasized by the Angel of Death passing over the houses of the Israelites, the story cannot be told without Moses.
Or can it? To be free is to have the capacity to know one’s place in the grand structure of life. Each person becomes a somebody; able to determine how to help or harm others. In recounting aspects of the Exodus story, the goal is a not a historical retelling, for that could have been mandated by reading and reciting the first 15 chapters of Exodus. Rather, the purpose of Passover night is to reflect on what the journey of slavery to freedom means, and how we recognize that freedom is G-d-given, not human-given.
By deemphasizing the role of Moses, the Haggadah’s authors are teaching us the lesson that we were freed, not that someone freed us. We, each generation and each society that experiences freedom were freed. While it is the physical freedom, the end of enslavement that causes the celebration of Passover, it is more about the focus on being free, mind, body and soul, which is the theme of celebration. Freedom is less about Moses being the human representative of G-d, than the divine process of going from horrific to wondrous.
As we celebrate the Passover holiday, and by extension the renewal that is spring time, may we continue to find in ourselves a sense of freedom. And in remembering the harshness of enslavement, the lack of self, may we continue to call for the end of oppression for those who are not even physically free, let alone free of spirit and mind.
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner is campus chaplain of The Oscar an Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, which is comprised of Stein Assisted Living, Stein Hospice, Wilentz Senior Residence, Wilf Transport and The Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, call 732-568-1155, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wilfcampus.org.