Passover, Freedom, and Slavery
Passover commemorates the triumph of freedom over slavery. On this holiday, Jews around the world remember their history. They remind one another of who they really are. They recount where they have traveled, and they tell the story of a God who loved and delivered them.
In our country today, we need a God to vanquish the evil powers and free us from our own slavery. We are trapped in an addiction that glorifies wealth and aggression. Feeling out of control ourselves, we try to control others. We punish them severely, yet we indulge ourselves. Our political leaders lose their way, like addicts hidden in tenements, stuck in their black and white thinking, their rationalizations, and their self-serving diatribes. Now we have dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an already decimated and traumatized country.
I was struck by the term used to describe this weapon, though I guess if bombs had mothers, it would be this one that blasted a crater into the earth and swept across farmland.
Reactions to the Bombing
Decisions about war are never easy. Afghanistan military forces worked with ours to coordinate the attack because they couldn’t pierce the insurgents’ bunkers otherwise. Perhaps the bombing was meant to warn others. People appreciate the attack because bad guys died and their tunnels were destroyed. A few Kabul residents told reporters they thought this was a positive step. 
Yet, in a town near the explosion, some citizens expressed fear, anger, and concern. They questioned the immense amount of money spent on a single attack. Could that money not have done more to stop the spread of extremism if used to feed people, provide potable water, and offer medical care? 
In our brokenness, we forget that kindness reaps more benefits than brutality. When we act rashly and pride ourselves on being strong, the world suffers.
Violence Begets Violence
Passover is about remembering. We would do well to remember that violence only begets more violence. Those who suffer create more suffering.
Unfortunately, every child born to a woman has the capacity to fear predators, take revenge, crave power, cling to privilege, steal and shoot and make others suffer for the suffering they’ve endured. This is part of our makeup.
We see this in the gods, as well. The Hindu Goddess, Kali, is the great and nurturing Mother, the Creator who, from the void, formed the Universe. Yet she is also the Destroyer, the one who sheds blood, who maims, who kills. When it’s time for the Universe to die, Kali will destroy it. Her very fierceness makes her a powerful protector and liberator.
In this way, she is like that male, Hebrew God who created everything out of nothing, who breathed life into Adam and Eve, who flooded the earth, who freed the Hebrews, who drowned the Egyptian army. Life leads to death which leads to life and to more death. The cycle never ends.
Yet must we take pleasure in the killing? We seem to have a lust for violence. Perhaps it is just another side of our capacity to create life. Can we separate the dark from the light? When does the day begin?
The Song of Miriam
Take Miriam’s song of victory when the Egyptians died.
”Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Ex. 15: 21)
In a way, I think I get it. The Hebrews were fleeing for their lives. For them, God performed this incredible miracle where the sea rose in a wall around them so they could walk on dry land. Then, as the Egyptians entered the sea, God let the waters crash on the them. “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained.” (Ex. 14: 27-28)
Clearly God was on the side of the oppressed, of the disenfranchised, of the victim and the slave. This is the God we worship and whom we love, the God who saves us.
So it makes sense to me that Miriam felt more gratitude and relief than she could contain. If I were being attacked as the Hebrews had been, and my attacker suddenly fell down dead, I would praise God, too. How can I condemn Miriam for crying out in joy once her enemies were gone? And if she felt angry and bitter, as well, why not?
When We Are Enslaved in Our Hearts
Getting over the fear, rage, and hatred that comes of being abused takes time. While we are in danger, those violent emotions keep us alive. They enable us to escape. Of course, as the story goes, the people didn’t escape entirely. They might no longer have worn chains, feared the lash, trembled for their lives, but those chains stayed in their hearts for the forty years they wandered in the dry, dusty, discouraging desert. By holding bitterness in our hearts, we enslave ourselves. Yet forgiveness takes time.
Miriam was not perfect, even though she was a prophet. In fact, she was so special that, like her brothers, she was eased into death by God drawing her soul from her body with a kiss. Yet she could be petty, impatient, and impetuous. You see, God has always called the broken and the flawed to do God’s work. God doesn’t have a choice in this, of course, because there isn’t anyone else to call. We are all broken.
So maybe the problem isn’t that Miriam made mistakes, got caught up in emotions, allowed hatred to fill her heart. After all, she knew how to accept who she was, to be herself, and to depend on God.
Maybe our problem is that we expect perfection. We wound and chastise and shame ourselves and others, thinking we have to earn God’s love or do it all ourselves. These days, we don’t need a god. We have “mother” bombs.
In the mid-1600s, it is said, the Rabbi Judah-Loew of Prague created a Golem to guard the Jewish community in that town from being attacked. The Golem was very effective and killed many of their enemies. In the end, though, the rabbi removed the creature’s life force because he realized this destroyer was not the answer, not even if greed and bigotry left the Jews vulnerable to false accusations and murder.
The Passover story tells of a people who understood it was better to praise, pray, rail at, and beseech God to save them than to rise up and murder their enemies. This may not seem to be the moral throughout the Torah, though there is a strain of Judaism that suggests it is. According to legend, Rabbi Judah-Loew decided to have in faith in the power of physical and, even more important, spiritual freedom. He decided it was better to have faith in a loving God than in a vengeful robot.
If we can bring ourselves to trust in this way, we will not always survive. We will not always be rich or victorious. Yet we do not win every war, either.
Nor does trusting mean we have no responsibility to act for freedom. Moses spoke out for justice. He made demands of Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. Together, he and God prevailed. Together. The Passover story reminds us that we are called to speak out against the chains and the lash. We must denounce terrorism, violence, and bombs. We must tear down the idol of oil, money, drugs, sex, and lies.
Freeing Our Hearts
To do that, we must first get rid of the slavery and the idol in our own hearts. The Hebrew people took their trapped, bitter, frightened feelings with them on their journey to the Promised Land. They took their false gods, and had to learn to worship a different one. As the good rabbi understood, if the Golem didn’t expire, his people would become slaves to the machine.
We are no different. Because we refuse to take the life of our bombs, missiles, and guns, we are slaves to them, and slaves to our hatred, our fear, our anger, our loneliness, and our shriveled souls.
On Passover, let us remember we were once slaves, every one of us. In one way or another, most of us remain slaves to day. According to the Passover story, our freedom will come not because we built the “mother of all bombs,” but because we trusted in a force of light, and life, and love, and peace. In spite of all our privilege, or lack of it, we have only one choice: we can breathe life into a Golem, into our machinery of death, or we can open our hearts and souls to the power of a god, to the power of a divine force, to the power of love and human goodness that will, if we allow it, breathe life into us.
In faith and fondness,
- Ghubar, Gulabudin, “U.S. Bombing in Nangarhar Met with Mixed Reactions,” Tolo News, April 14, 2017, https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/us-bombing-nangarhar-met-mixed-reactions.
- Trimarco, James, “The “Mother of All Bombs” Killed ISIS Fighters—But Poor Afghan Farmers Now Deal With the Trauma,” Yes Magazine, April 14, 2017, http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/we-dropped-our-biggest-bomb-on-the-land-of-poor-tribal-farmers-20170414. See also Mashal, Mujib and Fahim Abed, “‘Mother of All Bombs’ Killed Dozens of Militants, Afghan Officials Say,” New York Times, April 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/world/asia/mother-of-all-bombs-afghanistan-us-moab.html.