Beyond the Pain

Right now, Jews all over the world (myself included) are celebrating Passover. If you don’t know what Passover is or would like a refresher, it’s the story of Moses, the burning bush, and the 10 commandments. What continues to be most relevant in my opinion is how Moses commanded the Egyptian Pharaoh of the time to let the enslaved Jews go free, and the Pharaoh refused. As retribution, God delivered 10 plagues. (If you want to read the whole story, you can do so here.) If I had to summarize the story of Passover, it’s about escaping plagues and seeking freedom.

In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which also means narrow spaces. Last year as we were in the early stages of COVID-19 and quarantine, Passover was especially symbolic. I think we all felt in an embodied way what it means to be in a narrow space either physically or emotionally.

This year society is in a different place and as such the holiday is resonating in a different way for me. Collectively, we’re still in the tight, narrow space, the metaphorical Egypt, but there’s also light at the end of the tunnel. We’re almost out of that place. And that’s what this holiday reminds us – that deep, dark, painful things happen to us in life, sometimes personally and sometimes collectively, but also there’s relief when those things are no longer there. That relief is what’s snagging my attention. Vaccines are rolling out and in my own state, everyone older than 16 will be eligible for vaccination by April 15th. I know there’s still time before it’s safe to breathe the same air as strangers without a mask, but still. We’re about to experience liberation and freedom in a way we have not since COVID-19 hit.

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Free like this! Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

To bring it back to Passover, I find it telling that when I said to a friend we should sing a melancholy song at our Zoom shabbat gathering, he said Passover isn’t a sad holiday. It’s joyous, it’s about celebrating freedom.

His comment struck me because so often I focus on the melancholy, the struggle, and not the joy. I know it’s premature to celebrate just yet because the pandemic is still affecting our lives – some more than others – but this holiday celebrates hope and courage without omitting the pain.

A quote that I think fits in nicely with the theme of Passover comes from Saint Bartholomew who said, “Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond the pain.”

Who are we beyond the pain of our personal and collective Mitzrayim? Who are we on the other side of transformation? Who will we be when we reach the metaphorical promised land? How will we operate? How will the world operate? I’m curious to find out. Passover reminds me of all this – pain and pleasure. But mostly, it reminds me how sweet it is to be free.

I dream of a world where we take heart from our ancestors. A world where we remember their lives – Jewish or not – were filled with not only suffering, but overcoming suffering. A world where we recognize we don’t have to run from pain because we’ve already experienced it countless times. A world where we feel all we are beyond the pain and remember how joyful freedom can be.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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