12.40 Passover / Easter


The 77% Weekly
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12/40 From the desk of Rabbi Brian



12.40 Pass-East-over-er


I love Stephen Prothero’s newest book, God is Not One. Prothero discusses religious differences in terms of a mixed salad (in which all the various components come together while still retaining their distinct qualities), versus a melting pot (where everything blends together and no distinctions can be made). Prothero suggests that we must celebrate the differences of religions (mixed salad) as opposed to insisting they are all the same (melting pot). To this, I say, “Hurrah!”


With that in mind, I would like to suggest that the opposite can also be true — that Easter and Passover celebrate liberation and are the same story.

Some of you might say, “No, Rabbi Brian – the two are very different stories with completely different main characters and different morals! They are not the same!”

While I agree, I also disagree. And I’m not the only one. John Shelby Spong has some unbelievably good books published on this subject. Liberating the Gospels: A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament made it really clear to me that Easter and the Passover are basically the same story. His premise is that the Easter story was originally a re-telling of the Passover story… and the parallels are too many to be coincidental.

Think about it – the Gospels were written by Jews! (John being a slight exception). Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul were all Jews, writing for a Jewish audience, explaining Jewish things. The writings of the New Testament were contemporaneous to the writing of the “Jewish” Midrash, Gemara, and Talmud. So, of course, the authors would use the language and the stories they knew.

Here are the main themes of both the Passover and Easter stories:

  • They’re both about a journey, a traveling from slavery to freedom, from death to life. A movement from the confused and constricted, to liberation in a proverbial salvation or land of milk and honey.
  • Each story brings up the same question: How do we go from being limited and small to experiencing the unlimited? The answer is that we must take a journey. We must progress towards freedom, to new life, to being with God however you understand God.
  • The whole point is that we have to liberate ourselves, allow ourselves to let ourselves be liberated, allow ourselves to be free, and experience the divine – however that works in our lives. The point is to disregard groupthink and pay minimal attention to the external forces in our lives that we’ve internalized. These forces wind up confusing us.

If we get hung up on questions like, “Did the Exodus really happen? Did they really bake the matzah? Did the plagues happen? Did Jesus actually rise from the dead?” then we risk losing the point of both stories. Instead of getting caught up in the details, we should focus on the overall journey.

Now, let me give you my retelling of the story of Passover – the story that I’m more familiar with.

After all, the point of the Passover Seder is a personal re-telling of the story of the Exodus. Jewish law says that at every Seder it is commanded upon us that we see this story as though we were there – that I was a slave in the land of Egypt. This is something we should take to heart.

Here’s my retelling for this year…

I‘m a slave in the land of Egypt. A man arrives with a very Egyptian-sounding name — Mo, or something like that. He says, “I know I might appear to be an Egyptian, but I’m actually a Jew just like you, and I want you to experience freedom.”


Of course, I’ve been a slave my whole life, I’ve never seen anything other than what I’ve seen, so I have no idea what this man is talking about. I think he’s insane.


I go back to my bricks and mortar, doing what I have to do.


But the words of this crazy-liberation-kind-of-man stick with me. Some people in town say he performs miracles where he turns water into wine, or water into blood. But that’s not what draws me in. What he does – the thing that really catches my attention – is he stands up to the authorities in charge.


This Mo-guy says, “Everyone has the right to pray to God in their own way.” And that catches my ear.


So I follow him – a little hesitantly at first – but it becomes clear to me, and I see with my heart that I need to be free. So I follow him.


Following him isn’t easy. When I was captive, at least I knew where my meals were coming from. At least I had some sense of security in my slavery.


But I choose to follow this man, and continue following him, until the Egyptian army is chasing after us with chariots and weapons. We have nothing to defend ourselves with! It’s as if we’re on a pony ride, and here comes an Army military convoy right behind us, about to wipe us out. We can’t run much faster.


In front of us, there is water. I can’t swim. Now I know it’s death. Certain death. No hope. There is no way out of this predicament.


I can’t turn back to the Egyptians and say, “Hey, I made a mistake.” And I can’t go forward, because there’s water – and I can’t walk on water.


Then a miracle happens. Without me understanding how, I get through it safely. I don’t drown. I’m not slain. Oh, that’s a miracle.


I sure do hope you remember being there as well.


Spiritual-religious advice: Seek out liberation.


With love,

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian

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