How can we move beyond slavery

As long as families have gathered around the seder table to celebrate the Exodus from Egypt, a question has nagged at us. That question is: How can we rejoice in our own freedom while so many others remain oppressed?

We are commanded to retell the Passover story each year, and each year we are supposed to feel as if we personally have made the flight out of Egypt. Somehow, though, it seems that this year it is difficult for us to consider ourselves completely free.

We are enslaved by war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq happening almost daily. What took place last month in Madrid reminds us that we are still enslaved by threats of terrorism against our allies and here, on our own soil.

We are enslaved by a bad economy, in which millions of Americans are still out of work. We are enslaved by a presidential campaign that is already highly divisive, highlighting just how fractured our country is.

We are enslaved by a fear of increased anti-Semitism, if not personally affecting us, then affecting our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world.

We are enslaved by a feeling of hopelessness about Israel. Whether Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdraws from Gaza or doesn’t, there still will be no immediate peace with the Palestinians. And we are enslaved by concerns about Sharon and whether he may be forced out of office by a possible indictment.

With all these things enslaving us, it does seem unusually difficult to get into the spirit of celebrating our freedom this year.

During the 10th plague, our ancestors’ homes were “passed over.” Their firstborn sons were spared. And the ancient Israelites moved out of Egypt, out of slavery, and into the Promised Land and freedom. There was reason to be celebratory.

In more modern times, Jews observed the festival of freedom in the most unfree of places: They did so in the former Soviet Union, and they did so even in the Nazi ghettos of Europe. The fact is, they did overcome, just as our ancestors did when they fled the oppression of the Pharaoh. They found reason to give thanks.

So, looking at the dark days of our history for inspiration, we can move beyond our own private Egypts and ghettos.

If those in the camps were able to remember and rejoice, can we do less? And wouldn’t we dishonor those who battled oppression if we allow ourselves to sink into despair?

While we may not be able to solve the world’s problems at our seder tables, some of our current crises can certainly be food for thought. Although the odds are against it, our Pesach discussions might even spark an idea that could lead to a solution.

And our Passover prayers may move us from hopelessness to hope.