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Holiday Reflection: Pesach

| March 19, 2009

The Holiday:
Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

After years of prospering in Egypt, the Israelites faced extreme hardships at the hands of a new Egyptian pharaoh, or king.  He feared their strength and their numbers, and enslaved them to ensure his own hold on power.

Despite their backbreaking labor, the Jews continued to multiply, and Pharaoh felt increasingly under siege.  His decree that all Jewish newborn males be killed attempted to prevent the Israelites’ numbers from growing.

One baby boy escaped the notice of the governing authority.  Hoping to save him from certain death, his mother put him in a reed basket and sent it floating down the Nile.  When Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe in the river and saw the baby, she decided to raise it as her own.  She named him Moses – “he who was drawn from the water.”

As Moses matured into young adulthood, the Israelites’ plight grew steadily worse.  God appointed Moses as His messenger, instructing him to demand Pharaoh to release the Jews from their servitude.  Pharaoh refused Moses’ repeated entreaties and, as a result, God inflicted the 10 plagues on the Egyptians, ending with the most severe:  the slaying of all firstborn Egyptian children.  God instructed the Israelites the mark their doorposts with the blood of a paschal lamb, so He would know to pass over their homes.

This final plague finally broke Pharaoh’s resistance; he demanded the Israelites leave Egypt.  They did so hastily, fearful he could change his mind.  They left so quickly that there was no time for their dough to rise; they took this unleavened bread, our modern-day matzo, with them as they fled into the desert.  Passover is also known as Chag HaMatzot, or Feast of Unleavened Bread.
For Discussion – Our modern-day challenge:
How does our own history of enslavement reinforce our dedication to fighting for freedom – and justice – for people who are still victimized by tyranny today?

What are some barriers that impoverished people face in escaping from various forms of oppression?  How can we, as advocates, help them overcome these obstacles?

Activities for Advocates:
Use the holiday as an opportunity to launch a community-wide letter-writing campaign to elected officials, letting them know of your concern about the harsh conditions endured by poor and hungry people around the globe.  Encourage them to introduce and support legislation that increases foreign aid to struggling countries.

Organize a community Passover seder dedicated to raising awareness about global poverty.  Introduce readings and commentaries that reflect on challenges facing poor communities and suggest ways in which our involvement might make a difference.

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