ISSUES OF FAITH: The hope in Passover

DURING THE RECENT Jewish holiday of Passover, we celebrated spring’s new birth, and a journey from slavery to freedom, the actual beginning of the people Israel.

During the seder, we are encouraged to personally “experience” the Exodus from Egypt, from the utter despair of oppression to the exuberance of freedom. In preparation, we physically rid our homes of leavened products called chametz, but there is also a spiritual element in this task. Chametz is equated with ego and pride, and we reflect on the negative power those traits have in our lives.

We remember that God “took us out of the land of Egypt” and the admonition that “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld says, “We know how easy it is to depersonalize the stranger, to be tempted to treat the stranger as less than us” (A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice).

Hating “the other” can itself become a form of slavery.

During our Passover seder, we leave a chair empty and pour a cup of wine for Elijah, the prophet who is a symbol of hope for our future. Many also add Miriam’s cup, filled with water, symbolizing the well of water that our tradition says accompanied the Israelites through the desert because of the merit of Miriam.

This year we also left a chair empty for the hostages still being held in Gaza, and we remembered the horrific losses on BOTH sides of the Israel-Gaza war.

Strassfeld points out, “While Elijah is a symbol of the future redemption, Miriam is a symbol of the ongoing hope and striving for that redemption.”

After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, the water closed upon the Egyptian soldiers, drowning them all. A story is told that when the angels began to rejoice, God admonished them because they too were God’s children and there should be no rejoicing at the death of others. There is a portion of the seder when we remember the pain of others, even our enemies. When we recite each of the 10 plagues God brought upon the Pharaoh, for each plague we dip a finger in our wine and put a drop on our plate, symbolizing the diminishing of our joy. Thus we remember that the Egyptian people suffered mightily for the sake of the Israelite freedom.

An important concept we learn from Passover is hope, something so needed in the difficult times of today’s world. We realize no matter how unbearable our lives may be, we are always surrounded by God’s presence seen through the loving-kindness of those around us.

When we move from despair to hope, we must then also be agents of hope for others who are less fortunate than us. Through these acts, we become partners with God in bringing the repair of our world closer.

The telling of the Passover story reminds us that we must seek pathways to advocate for the most vulnerable, both in our nation and in the world.

As Proverbs teaches, “Speak up for the mute, for the rights of the unfortunate. Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy” (31:8).

When we see images of poverty, starvation, violence and the faces of children maimed in war, it is easy to feel hopeless. But Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference. In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

The hope in Passover reminds us that we cannot allow ourselves to become paralyzed into inaction.

As the Israelites resisted oppression and despair against all odds, so must we. All faith traditions teach us we must fight against oppression, help the poor, feed the hungry, take in the stranger, and speak out against hatred and injustice.

These actions are all sparks of hope, and brought together, they will create flames of freedom.

Hope is a bridge to a new world, and we alone can build that bridge.

Kein yehi ratzon ... may it be God’s will. Shalom.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is

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