We take a break from the weekly Torah cycle to welcome Passover. As you know, the Hagaddah is the central vehicle for telling our story. The richness and variety of Jewish history is matched by the richness and variety in Haggadot that have been created for centuries. At our family “sederim” these many years, we have been using the Baskin Haggadah. It has many rich readings. One always strikes me as powerful and it relates to a message that rings true, especially in today’s world. As the section of the telling of the Passover story begins there is a passage which speaks to the time before the Exodus when our ancestors “served other gods”. There follows a comment from Erich Fromm which notes that idols represent a craving for “possession, power and fame”. Fromm notes that “the history of mankind up to the present time is primarily the history of idol worship…from the primitive idols..to the modern idols of the state, the leader, production, and consumption…In worshiping the idol, man worships himself.” (“A Passover Haggadah” CCAR. p.36)
That quote always reminded me of another prayer, this one from the prayer book “Gates of Prayer”, still in use by many Reform congregations.This particular prayer always reminded me of the Fromm quote, a perfect prayer circle, if you will. The Gates of Prayer selection mirrors Fromm in that it reminds us that when we worship the self we loose sight of that which is transcendant in life. “That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine our life and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we are worshipping, for what we are worshipping we are becoming” (“Gates of Prayer”. CCAR. p. 240)
Passover represents many things. One of its messages, I suggest, is that in our struggle to bring meaning and truth to our life–a struggle that is life long–we will be tempted to worship many things. Most, as Fromm says, are false idols, they are temporal and transient. We need to be careful what we worship. The struggle to be truly free is a struggle of faith and will. It is never easy and, as the Exodus story reminds us, is filled with trials and temptations.
We all need something to believe in. There is a difference, as Fromm and the prayer remind us, between believing in our self and worshipping our self. The difference, at times in our life, can be fluid and challenging. Passover reminds us of that danger between having faith in our self and soul and having our self as an idol.
From my family to yours, our best wishes for a sweet and healthy Passover
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.