Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Out of Darkness into a Great Light — Letter from the Rabbi

What does the Passover Seder mean to you? Is the special thing having the family gather for the Seder? Do you love the rituals of the Seder and the reading of the Haggada? Maybe for you the highlight is the meal? Perhaps we focus on our ancestors’ departure from slavery to freedom; or on the need to end the slavery that still exists in our modern world.

The Haggada, the book we read from at the Passover Seder, is primarily about the Exodus from Egypt, when we were brought out (“redeemed”) from slavery to freedom. But the Rabbis, who wrote the Haggada at a time of exile from the Land of Israel, were also praying for a future redemption: that the Jews should be gathered from the four corners of the earth and brought to a sovereign Land of Israel. For two thousand years, that prayer sustained our ancestors in so many countries of the world. In a sense, living in exile was like being in slavery.

The Passover Seder takes us a journey from something degrading to something wonderful. Thus we read early on in the Haggada: At present we are here (that means we are in exile); next year may we be in Israel. At present we are slaves; next year may we be free men and women.

At this point, we are still slaves, we are still in exile; but we are hoping and praying that we will be taken to a better place, to freedom, to sovereignty in our own land. By the end of the Seder, we have made the journey, and read the joyful lines: God took us out of slavery into freedom; out of grief into joy; out of mourning into festivity; out of darkness into a great light…

This had led me to think about the journeys from darkness to light we have made in own lives. Haven’t we all at some time gone from misery to joy, or from fear to relief to thanksgiving? For some it might be recovery from a difficult and frightening illness; for others it might be when we have moved beyond grief for the loss of a loved one, to enjoyment in life again – that discovery that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The most powerful stories come from those of our residents who are Holocaust survivors, who talk of moments in the camps that saved their lives, or when they lived the amazing moment of liberation.

I recently heard the story of someone who continued to live at home after her husband had passed away. She was lonely and unhappy; life was going nowhere. Still she fought against her daughter’s wish to bring her to the Jewish Home. (Did that seem like going from freedom to slavery?) Finally she agreed and entered the Home, and her life changed beyond belief. She became very close friends with her room-mate and, with her help, she developed a wider circle of friends. She attended discussion groups and language classes. This intelligent woman discovered that she had much to give, and she was widely liked and appreciated. This story is not unique. Others too have found their lives greatly enriched here. Out of grief into joy, out of mourning into festivity.

And if we look into the future, what is our dream for ourselves and for our world? One challenge lies in believing things can get better; it is all too easy to get stuck in pessimism that there is no way forward. That was true of the Children of Israel when they faced the Red Sea, which blocked their escape from the Egyptians. But tradition tells us of one man, Nachshon, who walked into the Red Sea and kept going forward step by step until the water rose almost to his nostrils. Firmly believing that there was a way forward to life and freedom, he took one more step – and the Sea parted for the Israelites to cross to safety. The story tells us that change does not just happen; we have to make it happen.

I think of all those people of vision, generosity and hard work who made the Jewish Home what it is today, step by step. I think of the new resident and her room-mate who together turned mourning into joy. When we feel we are stuck in Egypt, let us have the courage to believe that we can, step by step, start on the journey to liberation.

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman is the Skirball Director of Spiritual Life at the Jewish Home and also serves as Rabbi of the Home's Grancell Village campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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