Monday, April 16, 2012

Four Questions for a Better World

Eight more problems left.

I stared at my open math notebook in defeat; how was I supposed to finish these final trigonometric graphs without falling asleep?  Underneath my math homework laid an incomplete research paper, two pages of vocabulary words to learn, and a 1950’s play to analyze. Thoughts of sleep and relaxation dwindled in front of my eyes as the clock ticked unsympathetically.

For the average junior in high school, pulling all nighters to complete her homework can easily be compared to, if not greater than, the primordial exodus from Egypt. While I’m sure my ancestors would disagree, my math homework had become my personal form of bondage. Like a post-biblical slavery, once could say.

As we approach Passover, we embark upon traditions that have existed for thousands of years. We compile a bowl of chopped apples, walnuts, Maneshevitz wine, and cinnamon to create our charoset, we watch our relative attempt to compose a creative rendition of the Passover story, but most importantly—we ask four questions that shape and define our Seder. This year, I am offering four post-biblical questions that could perhaps inspire us to stop and reflect before celebrating our exodus from slavery.

1).: Are we truly free? We may be free from the torturous reign of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, but there are alternative forms of slavery that we cannot ignore. This year, more than 16 million children were at risk of hunger while 50% of every dollar spent on food is wasted. Thousands of men and women suffer from homelessness while more people owning second homes are feeling emptier than ever. As a wise rabbi once explained, Egypt can be interpreted as a “narrow place” for the Israelite slaves once living there, but has our country truly provided a haven for such hardships? Has our country become its own Egypt, or “narrow place?”

2). Where is your narrow place?  While you may be blessed with a roof over your head and food on your table, life is not perfect. Everyone we know-- wealthy, poor, faithful or faithless—is experiencing a form of exodus from the factors in life they strive to improve or change. It is critical for people to find the line between their hardships and what allows them to feel free .For me, those eight math problems, as seemingly insignificant as they may seem, have enslaved me to my desk at bizarre hours of the night; overcoming that assignment makes the freedom I celebrate each year only that much more limitless.

3). How can we create freedom today? We cannot wait until Passover each year to find an exodus from our respective bondages. For others, freedom is not only a desire, but also a necessity in order to survive. How can we ensure that the statistics of hardships in this world do not grow exponentially? For some, it could be as simple as taking that first step and seeking help. Slavery exists in myriad forms; a phone call to someone could be all it takes to relieve you from your mental slavery. Others may find that outlet of exodus by being the listener—the connection others need in order to find strength. The cure to slavery is ultimately in our own hands.

4). How can we broaden our narrow places? We are taught in Judaism to open our doors and “let all those who are hungry come and eat.” Yet far too many people eat at tables set for one. The “narrow places” that we once experienced in Egypt simply should not occur in homes today. Perhaps the only solution is expanding our Passover tables and inviting more people in. This year, and every year following, I encourage you to open your doors to invite the person with nowhere else to go.

The source and solution to hardships are in our control. We can wake up one morning and eradicate hunger, spread faith, and bridge the narrow places if we so choose to. This year, let us take these four questions and find the answers. That would make my math homework a whole lot easier. 

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