Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pesach and Freedom for All

This is really just a longer version of the status which I just posted on Facebook. In theory, if I can say something in a short status, then there's no reason to say it in a full blog post. But, brevity has never been the main requirement of the rabbinate...

I'm incredibly moved by the number of people who, this morning, have changed their Facebook profile picture to the Marriage Equality logo*. Over the next two days, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments about Prop 8 and DOMA, and there seems to be a real (if not particularly overwhelming  shot that, in the coming days (week? months?), Marriage Equality will be the Law of the Land, and people will be allowed to marry whomever the want, even if (gasp!) they happen to be the same sex.

* Of course, I acknowledge that my Facebook friends list isn't exactly a scientifically representative sample of the population. It may lean, on average, to the left. Slightly.

Many have noted that Pesach is the perfect time for this to be happening. Pesach (Passover) is the Festival of Freedom - our annual retelling (reliving, actually) of our Exodus from the slavery of Egypt. In Hebrew, Egypt is called Mitzrayim, which comes from the Hebrew for "narrow." Egypt is, literally, "The Narrow Place." Originally, that was probably geographic - Ancient Egypt existed almost entirely along the Nile, so the kingdom was very narrow, physically. But, our sages* read it metaphorically - Mitzrayim is whatever constricts you. Whatever hems you in. Whatever keeps you from being fully, fundamentally free. From being you were meant to be. From being fully yourself. In other words, Egypt and Freedom aren't only historical and physical, they are also personal and spiritual.

Who, let the record show, never let a simple explanation get in the way of a longer one...

Pesach doesn't just celebrate that one slavery, and our freedom from it. Pesach uses that one story as a paradigm to talk about every slavery, and every freedom. And so, Pesach really is the perfect day to be talking about (among a billion other things) Marriage Equality. Because, someone (a government, a religious group, a mob) telling you that your love isn't equal, that your marriage doesn't count, that your family isn't real? That must feel an awful lot like Mitzrayim.

And, that brings me to one of my absolute favorite, core teachings of Passover, and of all of Judaism. Several times, the Torah tells us that we must be kind to the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. We must, we are taught, fight for all who are enslaved, because we were slaves, once.

That's why we retell the Passover story, every year. That's why we're supposed to find new and creative ways to retell it, to make it feel real. Because, when we do that, when we can actually convince ourselves that, in some way, we were slaves, we'll actually remember what that felt like. We won't just talk about slavery, but we'll remember slavery. We'll feel the pain.

And, we'll be sure - absolutely, passionately sure - that no one - no one - should ever feel that way again.

We retell our story of slavery not to engage in some multi-generational pity-party, or to lay claim to some historical recompense. We do so in order to motivate ourselves to fight for others who are not free.

Time and again, the world (or, the be fair, some narrow minded segment of the world) has told some of us that we aren't equal. Jews had to be slaves. Africans had to be slaves. Their descendants were told that they were less intelligent, less capable, not worthy of mixing their blood with ours. And so on. We hear those stories, and we shake our heads in disbelief. We look back on our ancestors (and ourselves) with shame.

Except with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. We're perfectly happy to tell them that they aren't the same. That they aren't equal. That they have to stay in Mitzrayim.

Tonight, many of us will attend a 2nd seder. We will, once again, retell the story of our slavery, and our freedom. During the seder (or just at dinner, if you're not going to a seder) stop and imagine that someone looked at you, and your family, and call you all sinners. Called you all evil. Called you all illegitimate. Not real. Imagine that your government did that, every day.

Imagine how that would feel.

Remember how it felt.

Don't let it continue. Not one more damn day.

Freedom to marry. Now.

Now, we are slaves. Next year, may we all be free.

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