Religion

Divisions based on class, privilege: Simply dead wrong

In this 2015 file photo, Rabbi Larry Schlesinger holds a special matzo bag in the kitchen at Temple Beth Isreal where the congregation planned to serve up a special Passover feast.
In this 2015 file photo, Rabbi Larry Schlesinger holds a special matzo bag in the kitchen at Temple Beth Isreal where the congregation planned to serve up a special Passover feast. bcabell@macon.com

Saturday is the first full day of Passover according to the Jewish calendar. The origin of this annual observance can be traced back biblically to the night of ancient Israel's exodus from Egypt itself.

Friday night around their dinner tables, Jewish families throughout the world gathered to recount the epic narrative of ancient Israel's miraculous liberation by God from servitude to Pharaoh in Egypt to new birth and freedom in the promised land.

History reveals that, back then, human beings all too frequently divided their own kind into two relatively basic yet distinctly different classes: slaves on the one hand, masters on the other.

The rules of these castes were relatively simple: masters could be cruel to slaves, who were required to perform hard labor each day in exchange for a few crumbs of bread. If they wished, masters could sell their slaves’ children into slavery, or send them off to far-away lands as soldiers, or even kill them if they wished. The slaves, of course, were completely powerless to do anything about it.

Expressing utmost displeasure with it all, God made it crystal clear from the outset that for ancient Israel, new birth and freedom in the promised land were going to be much more than just a change of residence and caste status. Moses after all was charged by God to go to Pharaoh and proclaim, "Let My people go that they may serve Me."

That means that service to God rather than to mortals is absolutely paramount, so ancient Israel's physical liberation from slavery was only the very first step in God's great, eternal plan.

The Passover ritual dinner, or seder meal, is a celebration of the fulfillment of God's sworn promise unto Abraham many generations earlier that "through you (Abraham) shall all of the families of the earth be blessed."

That blessing was never intended to be one of gold or silver; nor was it intended be one of great conquering armies or mighty empires. Instead, God's blessing was that of divine instruction and guidance in the ways of righteousness that focused primarily on love and respect for God and all human beings, as well as the establishment of peace on earth and good will toward all men and women.

So God's sudden and radical transformation of the downtrodden and oppressed Hebrew slave caste into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation was nothing less than God's utter contempt and complete rejection of the human institution of caste systems comprised of masters on the one hand and slaves on the other.

For long before our Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were drafted, God, through Moses, and the Passover ritual that followed proclaimed that liberty is the inherent and inalienable right of every human being, and that the division of God's children into privileged classes and unprivileged classes is wholly unrighteous and just simply dead wrong.

Larry Schlesinger, is rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth Israel.

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