Last night I was searching my collection of Jewish books for those that might be appreciated at the Seder I'm attending. Although I'll miss my parents and the familiarity of my family's Seder very much, one nice thing is that my hosts strike me as being open to having more divrei Torah than my parents normally do. Granted, I do not relish the idea of a Seder that goes until 4 am, but a few divrei Torah are always nice. And my hosts are very spiritual people, so I took down my Haggadah by Abraham Twerski ("with a commentary illuminating the liberation of the spirit"), and checked my book of "Techinas" (prayers written by women in Yiddish in the 1600s and 1700s), and found a beautiful prayer to recite upon lighting the Passover candles. In the introduction to this particular prayer, the translator-editor, Rivka Zakutinsky, points out that the women had an even harder time than the men in Egypt, since the throwing of male newborn children into the Nile was even more heart-wrenching for them than for their husbands. Yet although their babies had been murdered, the Jewish women never lost faith that they would someday be saved, and made sure to bring musical instruments with them when leaving Egypt, so that they could celebrate properly with song and dance.
Reading that took my breath away. When we talk about our slavery in Egypt, we usually talk about the back-breaking labor, the terrible restrictions on our lives and the cruelty of Egyptian taskmasters. But how it hits home to me, now that my sister just had a baby, the atrocity of all the baby boys being drowned in the great river. The collective memory of the slave labor makes one sigh; the image of a baby being taken out of its mother's arms just minutes after birth, to disappear forever, could make me weep. Strange that it is not emphasized more. Isn't that the true horror of the Egyptian slavery? What is sweating over the pyramids in the face of the orderly killing of our newborn babies? And how inspirational, that women whose babies had been drowned still managed to find enough joy in their hearts to praise God for the victory at the Reed Sea, rather than simply walking away with empty arms and haunted eyes.
So as we enter Passover, I appreciate that, for all the stresses involved in living in the 21st century, and particularly in Israel, in the grand scheme of things my life is very stable and blessed. Yes, there are those who would have me disappear forever, but there are also those protecting me. I live in a free country where I have choices, and I earn my bread by sitting in a comfortable apartment talking on the phone and typing on a computer. I do not have children, but if I ever have any, I will not have to hide them from my government or send them floating down a river in a basket, hoping that somehow they will survive. I made it to the holy land without having to wander for 40 years. I have been blessed to have been raised in a beautiful religion that enriches my life. The limitations on my lifestyle-- my finances, my religious choices, other forces -- encourage me to be creative in how I express myself, and ultimately highlight just how free I really am.
I'd like to include here the English translation of the Techina for Passover. I love the way it weaves in references to toil, servantry, the plagues, water, and other themes from the Passover story, but in sometimes unexpected ways. I appreciate the work of Rivka Zakutinsky in compiling and translating these simple but beautiful prayers.
You are God, the Omnipotent Creator of heaven and earth.
Listen from Your holy abode to the outpouring of my prayer.
For You perform wonders for us at all times.
You took us out of Egypt to be Your treasured nation.
Therefore I implore that our entreaties be pleasing to You.
May Your mercies be upon me, Your maidservant, as I knock on the gates of mercy.
Remove from us all harshness and evil.
Let no sickness or plague befall us.
And in the merit of our eating matzot, may we never be impoverished.
Bless us with livelihood and sustenance which fully satisfies.
Look down from heaven and observe the worship of Your people.
They do all that is within their ability to fulfill Your commandments.
And You, God, be mindful of our toil.
In Your great mercy watch over us and bless us.
Give us the merit of recounting the many wonders that You will yet do for us.
Protect us from all harmful and destructive influences.
Let not the children of Your nation die early.
Recall the merit of Your standardbearers who crossed the sea of reeds.
Watch over us that we not drown in the deep waters.
Let not the rivers dry up during the summer days that lie ahead.
Please accept my blessing on the candles.
Brighten my fortune so that my foes will see me and be ashamed.
Let the eyes of my children and husband be illuminated by Your holy Torah.
Illuminate the darkness of Jerusalem and Your holy Temple
so that we may bring the Paschal offering upon the fire of its altar. Amen.
To all my Jewish readers, best wishes for a joyous and meaningful Passover.