Chag sameach, dear readers! Passover began at sundown last night. Like Purim, the last holiday I shared with you, Passover celebrates a variation on a common theme in Jewish history: we were oppressed and then, with God's help, we became free. (To learn more about the story, watch the absolutely brilliant a cappella Frozen version above.)
One of my favorite parts of the Passover seder, a ritual meal accompanied by prayers observed on the first and second nights of the eight-day holiday, comes at the very end, when everyone gathered around the table cries in unison, "Next year in Jerusalem!" Of course, the spiritual hope of all Jews is to make aliyah and move to Israel, uniting the diaspora in the Holy Land, and this exclamation is, at its most literal, an expression of that, but there's a more significant meaning behind it. As chabad.org explains, "Jerusalem is much more than a city. It’s an ideal that we are struggling to reach."
The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which means limitations, restrictions, obstacles. It represents a state in which our souls are trapped in our bodies, enslaved to material desires and tied down to physical limitations. It is a world in which righteousness, justice and holiness are held captive to corruption, selfishness and egotism.
Jerusalem means “the city of peace”—a place of peace between body and soul, heaven and earth, the ideal and reality. When our body becomes not a prison for the soul but rather a vehicle for the soul’s expression; when we live our lives according to our ideals rather than our cravings; when the world values goodness and generosity over selfish gain—then we are in Jerusalem, we are at peace with ourselves and the world.
The Jewish story can be summed up as a long journey from Egypt to Jerusalem. Beyond being just geographical locations, they symbolize two opposite spiritual states. The journey from Egypt to Jerusalem is a spiritual odyssey. Both as a nation and as individuals, we have always been leaving the slavery of Egypt and heading towards the freedom of the Promised Land.
As we sit at the Seder, we note that another year has gone by, and we have yet to complete the journey. But we are getting there. We are that much closer to the Promised Land than we were last year. We have advanced a few more steps in a march to freedom that has spanned generations.And so, regardless of your faith, perhaps you will say the words of the Haggadah with me:
This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel.
This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.