Our story begins as evil rules. We help it advance toward the sublime.
This is our theme:
In Egypt, Pharaoh enslaved us. We were freed from bondage with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. If we had not been delivered, we and all generations after us would still be slaves.
Therefore, even if all of us were wise and discerning, scholars, sages and learned in Torah: we would still have to tell the story of the Exodus. And praised is the one who lingers over the telling!
While we have no independent verification, our ancient literature relates that our father was a wandering Aramean.
When the famine in Cana'an became severe, Jacob and his eleven sons, his daughter Dinah, and their families joined Joseph in Egypt.
As Prime Minister and Pharaoh's assistant at that time, Joseph's family assumed a position of wealth, power and comfort.
Soon thereafter, however, a new king arose over Egypt "who knew not Joseph," and our ancestors were enslaved.
Our rabbis tell us that Pharaoh was able to enslave our people because of a pervasive fear among the Egyptians that we would be disloyal to our new-found homeland. Because we were different, we were not seen as an integral part of Egyptian society.
So, too, in our day, many people distrust those of different religion, race, sexual preference, or disability. This distrust allows oppression to flourish.
Our rabbis also tell us that the enslavement proceeded gradually. First, the Egyptians asked us to work for the Pharaoh because of an emergency. Then they told us we had to work one day a week. As Pharaoh's demands became gradually more restrictive our people did not resist. Eventually they took our rights and independent lives from us.
So, too, in modern times, as recounted by Rev. Martin Niemoeller, the challenges to freedom begin in the gradual encroachment of liberties.
"In Germany the Nazis came first for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I didn't speak up because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for me; by that time there was no one to speak up for anyone."
Though the Egyptians succeeded in enslaving our ancestors, they could not destroy the seeds that would lead to freedom. There was active resistance among our people. The midwives Shiphrah and Puah refused to comply with Pharaoh's orders to kill every male child born. This act of resistance inspired hope among our people and saved many lives, including that of Moses. There was also a spiritual resistance. Our people did not change their names or their language. We continued to celebrate our holidays and worship God.
And today as well, our resistance can be both active and spiritual. We can say "No!" to the demands and restraints imposed upon us. We can become active in our congregations and chavurot, work in politics, form mutual aid and self-help groups to encourage and guide one another.
Though raised in Pharaoh's house, Moses rejected the role of oppressor and returned to his people. Still, he found that they were unable to hear him.
Frightened of our taskmasters we were meek and disbelieving. We had difficulty remembering freedom, we could barely dream of it.
In our day, too, we internalize the bitterness of oppression. The young girl who thinks boys are better and the child who thinks only straight blond hair is beautiful, feel it. Jews who make disparaging jokes about Jewish women feel it. Through self hatred, this pain has become part of our day-to-day lives, a key to our personal and political limitations.