Passover has many powerful messages that are critical for strengthening one’s identity and values. Many of these transformative lessons can be learned from the main characters of the Passover story, such as Moses; his sister Miriam; his brother Aaron; and many other individuals. The one person from whom we would not expect to learn anything positive is Pharoah – the source of all of our troubles. However, in history, as in life, we learn from ALL people. Sometimes we learn to emulate good character traits by following the examples set by positive role models, and sometimes people serve as role models of what NOT to do – a lesson with no less impact.
When we think of Pharoah, one of the most famous phrases attributed to him is that his “heart was hardened.” This is an interesting phrase. Out of all the brutal, vindictive and murderous acts he perpetuated, the characteristic that most defined him was a hard heart. I see in that a tremendous moral message.
Obviously one’s actions are important, but even more critical is the driving motivation behind them. How different Pharoah would have been had he had a kind and sensitive heart, had he been a man full of compassion and empathy! On the other side of the spectrum lay Moses. Moses’ key quality that resulted in him being chosen to lead the nascent Jewish nation was that he cared for each one of the Jewish people as his own child. With Moses as our positive role model, empathy and sharing the burdens of others are qualities we all strive to emulate. However, this time of year is also an opportunity to reflect on whether we sometimes carry a hard or callous approach to others, be it friends, partners, colleagues, or even strangers, and to rid ourselves of that attitude. Perhaps that is the reason why our Seder begins with the famous Ha’ Lachma Anya invitation to anyone who needs a place to eat. We begin the story of our national redemption by extending ourselves for others and ridding ourselves of any hardness towards those different from ourselves.
Unsurprisingly then, the sages teach that if G-d sees us treat each other with compassion, as brothers and sisters, then He treats us, as any parent would, with compassion from above as well. The redemption of the Jewish people begins when we realize our collective responsibility to care for one another.
May this coming Passover instill in you and all of those around your seder table the empathy and caring to bring about the fruition of the words we share towards the end of the seder – L’Shana Haba’a B’Yerushalayim – next year in Jersualem!