This weekend we have studied the Torah portion Bo, Exodus 10.1-13:16. In this portion, Moses and Aaron continue to approach Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt to worship their God; but each time, Pharaoh refuses to allow it, no matter how severe the plague is on his nation and his people. God, through His prophet Moses, inflicts further plagues on Egypt-Locusts and Darkness. Pharaoh’s own courtiers plead with the king to give in, or the nation would be destroyed. But Pharaoh, still believing himself to be a god-despots develop big egos-refuses to budge, and does not allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt.
Then finally, there is the final plague, the Death of the First-Born, from the children pf Pharaoh to the children of the slave girls. Pharaoh’s will is finally broken, and he begs Moses to take the Israelite out of Egypt. the great thing is, Moses, once a prince of Egypt, was still respected in the court, and the Egyptians looked favorably upon the Israelites. The Egyptians, like all lower-class people, suffer from the stupidity and egotism of their rulers. In the portion is the beginning of the holiday Peach, the commemoration of the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery, with the origins of the Seder; and of the redeeming of the first-born.
Just about every Jewish movement you can think of has its own variation of the Pesach Seder, which updates for modern times while being loyal to the Pesach message of the liberation of the Jews from “Mitzraim,” the Hebrew name for Egypt. (“Mitzraim” literally means “the narrow place,” the place of few opportunities and no where to move, the place of limitations.)
On Thursday, April 9, I went to the Labor Seder of the Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), an organization of Jewish trade unionists, organized in the 1930s to combat the rise of Fascism. This took place in the Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 48th and Baltimore Avenue. They had the traditional Seder place with the Maror, the Haroset, the Karpas, lamb bone, the salt water, and the Matzah, and the traditional blessings were said. But contemporary issues were addressed in the Seder, like the poor relations between law enforcement and minority communities, and police shooting unarmed African-American men.
The Haggadah also dealt with labor struggles earlier in American history, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, the organizing of farm workers, and the problems on inequality in this wealthy nation. “Mitzraim” is not something in the past, there are still places and problems with people stuck in narrow, limited situations; and there will always be people fighting to get out of them.