It’s been a while since I’ve written about Nicholas Kristof’s columns. I’ll admit that I find Kristof challenging–not for his ideas, but for his tenacity. He has an amazing moral endurance, whether about Darfur or human trafficking or any of the numerous other issues he has continuously championed for years. That kind of stamina is hard to keep up with, and like many I suppose, I tune out at certain periods to focus on my own stuff.

But Kristof’s column this morning is timely for me, coming a week before Passover. One of the very first things we say at the Seder is:

This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and partake of Passover. This year we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel. This  year we are slaves. Next year we will be free.

For many years–certainly in my lifetime–most Jews in America have been materially comfortable, which has meant we have had to psychologize this passage. The states of hunger and slavery become “hungry for self-actualization,” or “enslaved to our bad habits.” Freedom exists on the high end of Maslow’s hierarchy.

How is this year different from all others? There’s the obvious: We’re not as comfortable as we used to be. We’ve lost money, some of us have lost jobs, some have lost homes. But even so, as Kristof reminds us, we are still vastly better off than the world’s poor.

And, more important, we are all bound up together. The point of saying this passage at the very beginning of the seder–accompanied in many homes by the symbolic act of opening the door and reciting the passage–is to raise our consciousness beyond ourselves. While the Passover ritual is celebrated in homes by families, it is also traditionally observed as a “night of watching,” that is, a night when God protects us, and we thus leave our doors unlocked. One meaning of this can be our trust in God, but another can mean our openness to the stranger, as the Torah states many times: “And you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

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