Chosen for What?
We began our “Approaching Passover” discussion with a simple question: What are we commemorating when we hold a Passover seder? Our people’s liberation from slavery, yes. The parting of the Sea and our Exodus from Egypt, yes. Having been spared the tragedy that befell the Egyptians, yes. But can we go so far as to consider the Exodus a sign that the Jews are God’s “chosen” people? Maybe, but for many of us, the idea of chosen-ness is uncomfortable. “It’s just not very PC [politically correct]”. Why were the Jews spared the tragedy? How come God let us survive while the Egyptians drowned? How do we reconcile the idea of being a chosen people with the egalitarian values we are raised with and taught to espouse?
It seems a valid, natural feeling to wonder what we did to deserve chosen-ness; even to experience a sense of “survivor’s guilt” when we recount our deliverance at the expense of the Egyptians’ lives. But what if we were to shift our focus slightly? Instead of asking why we deserved to be chosen, or blessed, what if the enormity of having been spared the drowning caused us to ask ourselves, “how has this event changed us as a people, and how can we prove ourselves worthy of having been blessed?” What if all the blessings in our lives—freedom, education, ample food and shelter, loving families—caused us to ask ourselves not why we are deserving of these gifts while others go without, but how we can use these gifts wisely and in a worthwhile way? What are the responsibilities that come with blessing?
In light of these questions, we discussed whether the USA, as a free, wealthy, and powerful nation, has responsibilities toward other nations that are less free, less wealthy, and less powerful. We discussed whether the wealthiest Americans have a responsibility to do something “good” with their money, just because they enjoy such abundance. Objectively, perhaps not. But as Jews we are taught that responsibility does come with blessing. “Standing idle” (having the ability to help someone but choosing not to) and “sins of omission” (having the ability to help but not recognizing it) are frowned upon in our religion. And (getting back to Passover!) we were freed from Egypt so that we could serve God; not so that we could wander, willy-nilly, through the wilderness! We were freed for a purpose—the blessing of freedom comes with responsibility. The abundant blessings that have been bestowed upon us should be celebrated, for sure, and we need not feel guilty for enjoying them, but they should also make us strive to prove ourselves worthy of having received them.
At the end of our discussion, we decided that, although we would not be having a Jacob Project seder, we would each bring to our next discussion extra cans for the food bank—a can to represent each person with whom we shared our respective Passover seders.
Hope you will join us too!
- Nickie Roberts
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