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A story of faith and hope


I was born and raised in northern New Jersey but haven’t lived there since 1976, when a college degree, combined with wanderlust, led me to Arizona, where I’ve happily remained ever since.

I’ve listened to many jokes over the years about being a “Joisey girl.” I’ve tried desperately to lose my Jersey accent, although I never quite succeeded as my children remind me every time I “tawk” to my parents on the phone — proving, it seems, that “you can take the girl out of New Jersey but you can’t take the New Jersey out of the girl.”

It might appear like a stretch but I think there’s an instructive metaphor here in the Passover story. As a leader, Moses was tasked not only with taking the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt but with taking the “Egypt” out of the Hebrew slaves.

In fact, the Hebrew word for Egypt, or Mitzrayim, stems from the root meaning to bind, shackle or imprison.

For the Hebrew people, living in Egypt meant over 210 years of bondage, poverty and powerlessness. The midnight escape may have been treacherous, but the real challenge was liberating the Hebrew psyche so that generations of slaves could become freethinking men and women.

Back then, there were no seminars on self-empowerment or self-help websites. Enter Moses, commanded by G-d, to become the first community organizer, to inspire independent thinking and action.

What tools did Moses have to take the Egypt out of the Jews? The two key ingredients in the Passover recipe of redemption through Revelation were these: faith and hope.

Perhaps the best “self-help” book of all times is what the 600,000 slaves received seven weeks after their escape as they stood together for the first time at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

In a moment which can only be described as formative as well as transformative, the Jewish people entered into the covenant with G-d with the ultimate words of faith: “We will do and we will understand.”

Those words are the words of a barely formed, fledgling belief that indicate that a ragtag group of ex-slaves could become, as the Torah instructs, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

They are words that suggest, it is often through doing that we can acquire a deeper sense of knowing.

In Hebrew, the word for faith is emunah, which means “to believe.” Having faith means that we believe and trust that there is a greater order to the world, though we may not be able to perceive or understand it.

Faith can give us a sense of hope from within a despairing world; it can help us respond to events and circumstances that seem senseless and unfair — like the death of a child, a horrific accident or an act of terrorism.

Faith is often the portal to hope. It provides an inner buoyancy that keeps us afloat when we are ready to sink. Hope is what keeps us moving forward. Hope is what inspired the Hebrew slaves to give up all they knew for the idea that they could have a better life in the Promised Land.

A midrash teaches us that when the Hebrew women left Egypt, they left everything behind except the copper mirrors they had used to help beautify themselves and entice their husbands to intimacy, so they could have children. These mirrors represented hope in the future, so they were used to create the priestly basin in the Tabernacle.

Passover teaches us that hope may be the single greatest act of defiance against the politics of powerlessness.

Passover encourages us to examine two very Jewish values: faith and hope.  It teaches us to examine what enslaves us in our daily lives and gives us the courage and inspiration to leave that behind and move towards something better.

Like our ancestors, if we put our faith in that inner voice that guides us along the way we can hope that if we make the journey, we too may find our own “promised land.”

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Amy Lederman

IJN Columnist | Reflections

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