Passover: Freedom from Fear By Rabbi Judy Chessin
It may be the oldest joke in the book: “Every Jewish holiday is the same…. They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” How true the sentiment is as we approach this year’s Passover Seder with increasing concerns over anti-semitism both here and abroad. More and more it feels as if “they” are trying to get us.
We would do well to recall that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated 51 years ago this month, once wrote a brilliant sermon entitled “Antidotes for Fear” describing two types of fear: “Sigmund Freud spoke of a person who was quite properly afraid of snakes in the heart of an African jungle and of another person who neurotically feared that snakes were under the carpet in his city apartment. Psychologists say that normal children are born with only two fears—the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises—and that all others are environmentally acquired. Most of these acquired fears are snakes under the carpet…. Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyzes us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but rather to harness and master it.”
And that is what Martin Luther King, Jr. did. He built what he called “dikes of courage to hold back fear.” He was unafraid and became the Moses of his people. In his final speech in Memphis, on April 4, 1968, the night before he was shot, Martin Luther King, Jr., stated: “You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite formula of doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.”
What an empowering lesson for us as divisiveness, senseless hatred and fear abound. Even if our enemies are many and our fears are great, if we remain unified as a people and steadfast in our commitment to fight for freedom and peace then indeed “we shall overcome.” Let this year’s Festival of Freedom become a turning point when we can flee the narrow straits which terrify us and begin our journey to the Promised Land; a nation wherein we and all peoples will yet become “free at last.”