Escaping the Narrows

addiction posterOn Passover we celebrate our people’s escape from Egyptian slavery. This is the signature event upon which our fundamental relationship with God is founded. It is the defining moment in history when our ancestors moved from being the descendants of Abraham to the people of Israel. It is the birth of nation. Indeed, Mitzryim, the Hebrew word for Egypt, means literally, narrow place, like a birth canal. It is when Am Yisrael was born into the material world.
Such lofty viewpoints and grand rhetoric, however important, often obfuscate the struggle of the myriad individuals living the event. The Exodus was a wrenching, birthing experience for every person of the thousands involved. Each unique personal narrative is a Torah itself, lost to the sweep of history, but not to our imagination. The sages who fashioned our Haggadah made sure we spotlighted the struggle of the one: “My father was a wandering Aramaian,” we say, not “their fathers,” or “our fathers.” We don’t just read that slavery was bitter to our ancestors, we eat bitter herbs, to ram the reality home through our very individual senses, the bitterness of slavery for each person and every individual.
For each escaping slave, the struggle to become free was different. Some were challenged physically by the rush to leave, others psychologically. There may have been family structures destroyed in the fracas. Some embraced the journey, others recoiled from it only to be overruled and overrun.
We need to remember the individuality of the Exoduses, not only to truly honor our individual ancestors, but also to free ourselves to personalize our own Exodus experience. No one among us has lived a life devoid of one kind or another narrow escape for which we can thank God. Many of us are still struggling in the narrows of challenges, physical, financial, familial or psychological. Some of us have wrestled with addictions, or moved through the illness and death of loved ones, struggled with unemployment, depression—and come to the other side. It is helpful to share these stories. It is one of the ways we learn compassion and empathy. It is also a way we bring hope to those still struggling.

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