As we celebrate Passover this week, we are witnessing historic events that have the power to change millions of lives. For just over a year, the war in Ukraine brings into our living rooms, into our lives, a modern-day story of the struggle for freedom.
A malignant narcissist, tyrannical despot, modern-day Pharoah, Vladimir Putin has consolidated unchecked, dictatorial power and victimized his own people for years. In his most brazen act of aggression, he ordered Russian troops into Ukraine, using indiscriminate violence and terror to subjugate his weaker and smaller neighbor, a sovereign, independent nation.
As we watch this horror unfold, we feel powerless, but we must respond. The world cannot sit and watch this unfold as helpless bystanders. Instinctively we know that this aggression will not end here. When the world did nothing to stop the capture of Crimea in 2014, Russia was emboldened to take the next chunk of its neighbor. China is watching and calculating its next moves toward Taiwan. Most importantly, we know from our history and tradition that time and again, oppressors never stop on their own.
Each year at Passover we recreate the moment when our ancestors were freed from Pharoah’s slavery, when we were liberated from subjugation and tasted freedom for the first time as a people. The rituals of Passover force us to remember and confront the brutalities of oppression, an especially powerful, though difficult, task for those of us born and raised in freedom.
B’chol dor v’dor. In every generation it is one’s duty to feel as though they personally had come out of Egypt, as it is written: “You shall tell your child on that day: This is on account of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:8) It was not only our ancestors whom the Holy One redeemed from slavery; we, too, were redeemed with them, as: “He took us out from there so that He might take us to the land which He had sworn to our fathers.” (Deut. 6:23)
We know the plight of the weak, the pain of the oppressed, the despair of the homeless, for we were all that and more, in the land of Egypt. The lesson of our holiday is to literally inhabit the mindset of the enslaved and then celebrate liberation, so that we never let it happen again to anyone. We must do everything in our power to work toward the freedom and peace of the Ukrainian people.
Let us never forget the power of hope and faith of our ancestors who were redeemed from bondage. Let us draw strength and courage from the Passover story and this season of redemption. And let us stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, in this current struggle for freedom and justice.
Rabbi Mark Blazer is the rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita.