Pesach is a paradigm of Jewish history. As the Haggadah relates, the story begins in exile, "Once we were slaves in the land of Egypt," and ends seven days later with the triumphant march through the sea, the destruction of the Egyptian army, and a song of Redemption.
"Next year in Jerusalem."
But the story is not about events -- hardship, suffering, leaving Egypt, fear of being overtaken and wiped out, fear of returning to slavery, and a trek into the desert, the unknown. The story is about a process that contains both Exile and Redemption at every moment. In Egyptian exile, Hebrew slaves yearn for freedom, but have no idea what that means; they are not yet Jews.
Guided by Moses, Aaron, Miriam and 70 elders, they are still affiliated to tribes, clans and families. They move out of Egypt with material possessions, herds of animals, and one spiritual item, matzah. They don't know where they are going, or why. They only know they must leave one home, in Egypt, in order to make another. Knowing they are helpless, they need to develop faith, in themselves, in their leader, Moses, and the promise of Torah that they will receive.
Between exile and redemption, they were not yet a Jewish People, they did not know their mission, their particular purpose, nor their ultimate destination. Although physically free, they were still in existential Exile. Standing on the northern side of the Red Sea, the beginning of their Redemption is mingled with doubt: have I done the right thing? They understand more clearly where they have come from, but are unsure of where they are going. And they will always be caught in a tension between what they know and don't know, between doubt and faith, exile and redemption.
Exile and redemption are not events, but processes which mold our consciousness, creating awareness not only of who we are, but why we exist as a people, and our sense of purpose. At moments of Exile, alienation, lack of connectedness, we need to hold on to a vision of Redemption, belonging, and companionship; and at moments of Redemption, we need to remember Exile, especially being strangers, outcast, and alien.
Pesach brings us together as a "family" of Jews, invited guests and friends, to experience an event together, to share food and company, to tell the story of "once we were slaves," and to create a moment of Redemption, a sense of intimacy and reconciliation, a brotherhood, the warmth of belonging, not only to those gathered around the table, but to the Jewish People, the holiness of this night, and why it is so different.
Yin/Yang: in every exile there is a bit of redemption and in every redemption there is a bit of exile.
Having made it to the Land of Israel, prevailed against the Philistines, and built the Temple in Jerusalem, we lost it to the Assyrians and Babylonians. We returned and rebuilt, and lost it to the Greeks and Romans. Without a homeland for two millennia, the Jews return, aliyah, a piece of redemption, a promise, the beginning and end of a journey: Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael.
"This year in Jerusalem."