Ecology, Slavery and The Passover Path To Freedom

By Rabbi Zelig Golden

Each spring Jewish communities recount the Passover story: “Now we are slaves. Next year, may we all be free.” The Haggadah, the text recited at the Passover table, suggests that in “every generation we are to experience Passover as if we ourselves went out from Egypt to freedom.”

What does it mean to me to be enslaved? If I am enslaved, what would it mean to be free?

We are called to personalize this liberation story. The mythical tale teaches that after the struggle with Pharaoh, Israel fled Egypt to freedom into the expanse of the wilderness. Egypt, “mitzrayim” in Hebrew, also means narrowness. Passover offers a psychospiritual journey from narrowness to expansiveness, an opportunity to reflect on the narrows of our lives, and move toward inner freedom.

For many on the planet today, slavery is all too real. Passover calls us to stand up against oppression of all kinds.

Passover also calls us to face the major issues of our time. For many on the planet today, slavery is all too real. Passover calls us to stand up against oppression of all kinds. At the Passover table, we share stories and debate how to activate on the critical issues of our time, such as supporting the rights of immigrants on our borders, facing the rise of white nationalism through cross-cultural solidarity, and uplifting indigenous communities’ access to their original lands rights.

At Wilderness Torah, a Berkeley-based community organization with the mission to awaken earth-based Jewish traditions, we build new-paradigm community to empower up-and-coming generations to embrace ancient traditions while making them relevant for our modern age. Each year we make a special Passover pilgrimage to the California desert to go beyond telling the story by embodying the liberation story. We build nature-connected, radically inclusive, multi-generational village. We empower concentric circles of community to find and share their gifts and collaboratively lead in village-building. With this foundation, we cultivate a collective understanding of how to stand together in the face of our personal challenges and our challenging times.

The Torah teaches that earthling (Adam) is made from earth (Adamah) (Genesis 2:7). Human beings are part of the fabric of nature. By forgetting this simple relationship, we forget who we are.

The earth-based context provides the essential context for this repair work. Jewish traditions teach us about our fundamental relationship to the earth. The Torah teaches that earthling (Adam) is made from earth (Adamah) (Genesis 2:7). Human beings are part of the fabric of nature. By forgetting this simple relationship, we forget who we are. We forget our human nature. As A.D. Gordon once prophetically stated, “When you will return to Nature—on that day your eyes will be open, you will gaze straight into the eyes of Nature, and in the mirror you will see your own image. You will know that you have returned to yourself, that when you hid from Nature, you hid from yourself.” At Wilderness Torah, we work to remember and then embody this return.

This return is essential because our ecological challenges are the most ubiquitous narrows we face today. By living as tribe for a week together in the wilderness, we awaken ancient memory and by being close to the earth, we bring into sharp relief the connection between our ancient traditions and the climate crisis. The Shema, the central Jewish prayer, teaches us to listen (“Listen Israel”), teaches that G-d is a unifying force of all things in creation (“G-d is One”), and directs us to “love with all of our heart and soul” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). The subsequent verses of the Shema admonish us that if we follow this path of love and unity, the rains will nourish our lands and we will eat and be satisfied; but if we go astray and worship ‘alien gods,’ the rains will dry up, and we will perish (Deuteronomy 11:13-17). While many recoil from this only seeing a pedantic, paternal G-d, I see this as a profoundly relevant instruction for today’s reality. Our worship of the alien gods of technology, money, and self-preservation seem to be driving our world to ruin.

If we fail to connect to and love our world, we will complete the destructive path we are on. Yet, Jewish tradition highlights a universal healing path.

If we fail to connect to and love our world, we will complete the destructive path we are on. Yet, Jewish tradition highlights a universal healing path.

The first step to love is connection. By reconnecting to nature we reconnect to ourselves. When we reconnect to ourselves, we remember our true nature, our human nature, and we build the capacity to love ourselves, love others, and love the world around us. It takes this love for one’s heart to break in the face of oppression and in the face of our contemporary climate crisis. It takes this love to turn outward in love and service, to right the wrongs of oppression and to nurture our imperiled world.

The personal Passover journey presents the opportunity to discover our internal narrowness and make the freedom march to expansive connection and love.

The personal Passover journey presents the opportunity to discover our internal narrowness and make the freedom march to expansive connection and love. From this place of freedom we can return and serve in Tikkun Olam, the healing of our world.

Join Wilderness Torah’s Passover in the Desert village by viewing this 3 minute video from the 2017 Passover in the Desert Festival.

Rabbi Zelig Golden is Executive Director of Wilderness Torah.  He previously worked as an environmental lawyer protecting food and farms and has long guided groups into the wilderness.

 

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