From Purim to Passover: Law versus Power

As we get ready to sit down at our Seder this week, it’s hard to believe that we were celebrating Purim less than a month ago. The time may be short, but the psychological distance between these two holidays could not be greater. The story of Purim is quintessentially the story of law. We read repeatedly in the Megillah about how everything was done “according to the law” – from the royal decree to kill all the Jews of the kingdom to the king’s order that Haman and his sons be hung on the gallows originally prepared for Mordechai. Even the drinking was done “according to the law.” The only act of legal defiance we see is when Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman, thus precipitating near disaster for the Jewish people. Our lives were collectively hanging by a thread, but it was the thread of law. Passover, by contrast, is the story of liberation. Oppressed Israelites called upon an external power to pressure the ruling authorities to release them from physical and spiritual bondage. Yet, the Haggadah reminds us that this is not merely to be read in historical terms. WE were slaves in the land of Egypt. It is what God did FOR US by taking US out of the house of bondage. When we leave the Seder table, we are challenged by the experience to look at the world in a new way. Passover is not so much an historical account as a personal wake-up call to the complacency in each of us. Anyone who misses the profound political lessons in this story must have checked out shortly after the second cup of wine. It has been observed that the Passover Seder, more than any other religious ritual, helps explain what makes Jews different. As the joke goes, we are the only people in America who live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans. We vote our values, not our pocketbooks. Why? Perhaps because we see the world through the eyes of the stranger, through the eyes of someone who has just been freed from slavery. Law versus power. Both can be used to oppress or to redeem. It’s all in how we view the world.