Pesach is my favourite holiday of the year. I love getting together to tell stories, old and new, experiencing rituals that Jews have practiced for centuries, and the themes of renewal and redemption. As many of you know, I recently gave birth so, in particular, I am conscious of the opportunities the season, of Pesach and of spring, has to offer in terms of thinking of rebirth.
We are born once, but we can be reborn many times. Religious societies sometimes speak about being “born-again” when someone accepts a new deity or religion into their lives. But to me, the idea of rebirth is a fundamentally human concept. Change is hard work. If we wish to reinvent ourselves, renew ourselves, come into a different understanding of who we are and what we wish to do, we need to turn inwards and do the hard work of reflection.
It is typically the high holiday period when we speak about this kind of reflection and renewal, but Pesach is another time that I find it’s worth a check in with myself. How am I doing with my goals for the year I set at Rosh Hashanah, now that half the year or so has passed? Have I rested during the winter season? Am I now ready for a burst of energy and life that comes with the awaken- ing of spring? What metaphors can I find in longer days, fuller light, buds opening, and birds returning?
The story of the Exodus itself is rife with themes of birth and rebirth. The midwives, Shifrah and Puah, usher Moses safely into the world and protect him despite the decree that the Jewish child be killed. Moses’ mother, Yocheved, consents to him being sent down the Nile in a basket, and his sister Miriam watches over him. Pharoah’s daughter finds Moses and keeps him in safety. All of these women, matriarchs of one kind or another, safeguard the child at once for his own value and because he represents for them the hope and redemption of the future. In the story, no one knows that he is special and is to be the deliverer of their people. But a baby always represents the endless possibility of one human life. It is precisely in the unknown of who and what they will become that we draw hope and strength.
In our adult lives we can also draw such strength from the unknowns of the future. Moses invents himself again and again. He moves from living with the Pharoah to becoming a shepherd in Midian with Tziporah and Jethro (his wife and father-in-law). He then sees the burning bush and finds a new path, overcoming a speech impediment and a fear of his own ability and power in order to become a great teacher and leader. Other characters also exhibit the themes of rebirth and reinvention. Miriam uses song to lead the people to overcome their own fear and march into the desert — the unknowns before them as vast as the desert landscape. The people choose to follow Miriam and Moses, trusting that the future they are enacting will be better than their enslaved past. Nothing is easy in the desert and the people make mistakes, as do their leaders. But this is the hard process of reinvention. There is beauty and joy in the struggle and the journey, as well as in their result. These are the metaphors for our own lives we find in this powerful story. We can choose to move into unknown future with courage. We can unchain ourselves from that which has been holding us back. We can start anew.
At Pesach, the egg symbolizes fertility and the circular nature of life. The greens on our Seder plate remind us of spring. And if your family chooses to put an orange or a potato or a beet on a Seder plate (newer additions that symbolize various contemporary ideas… look them up!), then you are actively engaging with the process of renewal that the holiday symbolizes. Not everyone is welcoming a new baby into their families. But everyone can appreciate that this time of year calls us to think about life, its preciousness and fleetingness, and how we can step into a fuller and freer version of our own.