The Jewish peoples’ Exodus from Egypt is arguably the main event in the Torah narrative. Three millennia later we are called to remember it every day in our prayers, every week on Shabbat, recount the whole story in the upcoming holiday of Passover.
While we are not enjoined to remember coming into the land of Israel, or even the covenants we have with God, over and over we are commanded to remember that we were slaves in Egypt.
Slavery isn’t just some aspect of our identity, it is the cornerstone of our existence as a people. Since we remember what it is to live in slavery, to be the laborers of Pharaoh, our freedom and independence is all the more cherished. In Deuteronomy, most of the teachings of God are recounted in reference to the redemptive event, in a way stating that God’s own word is not enough to justify the commandments, but reasons must be given, the ultimate reason being the memory of slavery. As such, the teachings of the Seder can be simplified down to one point: slavery is not to be remembered as a past-phenomenon, something that “just happened.” The Bad Son does not deny that slavery existed–he simply places himself outside of the story.
Thus, in Exodus 12:11 we are instructed to eat the Passover meal “with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand”–in complete identification with the slave, with the moment before freedom, with the possibility of redemption and the willingness to carry out that redemption ourselves.
But this teaching has been lost on many. Instead of girding our loins or preparing our staff, many Jews come together for lavish banquets and talk about freedom without recognizing that, for many, freedom does not exist. How can we truly say that we “remember what is like to be a slave in the House of Pharaoh” when there are currently slaves not only in the House of Pharaoh, but also in our own backyards in Israel (and America)?
If we are to aspire to being the Good Son (or daughter, for that matter), we should revive the custom of eating the Seder with our loins girded, our staff in our hand, and our minds focused on those who still reside in the house of bondage.
It may surprise some (as it did myself) to know that there are an estimated 30 million individuals living in slavery today – that’s more than all the people stolen from Africa during the whole period of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and 5 times the entire population of Israel. The US State Department reports that within 10 years, human trafficking will exceed arms and drugs as the largest illegal enterprise in the world.
With that in mind, leading up to Pesach, I have decided to start a project I am in no way qualified for; I will have a series of posts that will seek to provide you, O valued readers of Jewlicious with an enhanced perspective on our own freedom, information about modern day slavery, and what might be done about it, because we can’t harden our hearts.
One thing that can be done about it is funding those organizations who are actively engaged in Jewlicious is starting a fundraising campaign for this purpose. The money will be split to help two different organizations, one that does work specifically in Israel, and one that helps the world at large.
The first is the Task Force on Human Trafficking, an organization aimed at helping end human trafficking in Israel. They deal with the government, the victims and raising public awareness.
The international organization will soon be decided based on ongoing talks with experts in the field helping us identify where funds will be most beneficial.
Funds will be collected through the end of Passover. The TFHT is a 501(c)3, and you are also free to make donations to them directly.
A few links for more information:
I Abolish. An American Anti-Slavery Group.
Free the Slaves information on modern day slavery.
The Protection Project of Johns Hopkins University working towards an international framework For The Elimination Of Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women and Children.
Special thanks to Aaron Cohen, Michele Clark and Ariel Beery.
This post is in memory of Aaron’s father, Arthur Cohen who died Tuesday at the age of 89.