I have been thinking a great deal about the story that we intend to tell on Friday and Saturday night, as we gather with family and friends to recall the Exodus. I want to share with you two significant texts that have framed my thinking about telling the story. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes:
There is a profound difference between history and memory. History is his story an event that happened some time ago to someone else. Memory is my story -- something that happened to me and is part of who I am. History is information. Memory, by contrast, is part of identity. I can study the history of other peoples, cultures and civilizations. They deepen my knowledge and broaden my horizons. But they do not make a claim on me. They are the past as past. Memory is the past as present, as it lives on in me. Without memory there can be no identity. Alzheimer's Disease, the progressive atrophying of memory function, is also the disintegration of personality. As with individuals, so too with a nation: a nation has a continuing identity to the extent that it can remember where it came from and who its ancestors were.
Yet there is a paradox in the idea of collective memory. How can I remember what did not happen to me -- an event that took place long before I was born? The answer given by the seder services on Passover is: through re-enactment, by living again the events of ancient times as if they were happening now.
The Haggadah instructs us "In every generation a person must see themselves as if they themselves emerged from Egypt" is challenging. I actually think the success of our seder experience depends upon our ability to following this simple instruction. Are we able to truly see ourselves as slaves? Do we really imagine that we were slaves? Do we cringe and cry when we experience the Maror's bitterness? Can we truly say that the story we are telling is our story? For most of us the answer is no.
I have often asked myself, how might I truly enter the story? How can I really really see myself as though I were a slave in Egypt?
We might glean a lesson from Michael Ende's The NeverEnding Story, in which Coreander, a great lover of books says to a young reader:
"...this book is something special...Look, your books are safe. While you're reading them you get to become Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe, but afterwards you get to be a little boy again. Listen, have you ever been Captain Nemo, trapped inside your submarine while the giant squid was attacking you?...Weren't you afraid you couldn't escape? The boy says, "But it's only a story," to which Coreander replies: "That's what I 'm talking about. The ones you read are safe."
Perhaps feeling a bit less safe, a bit less secure, is a way in to the story. Perhaps allowing ourselves to become vulnerable in the telling of our own story, intentionally forgetting the "good ending" so that we can experience the tension, would provide an inescapable experience, and would allow us to understand the Exodus more vividly.
Ken, Tamar, Gabriel and Nina join me in wishing you and yours a Zissen Pesach, a very sweet Passover.
|< Prev||Next >|