2020-06-19 – I was thinking about ways to observe Juneteenth while sheltering in place. Of course, there are streaming events and concerts, and I’ll probably tune in to one. And there’s political action: I’m already signed up. But it seems inadequate.
Then my punster brain gave me a new way to look at it. It transformed Juneteenth into Jewnteenth. And what would be the Jewish analog to Juneteenth? Passover, the remembrance of when we were slaves—literally.
At this time in American history, many people would like to forget the blight of slavery, not just on the descendants of enslaved people, but on everyone. The message of Passover is the opposite: we are enjoined to remember—and to tell our children, so that we never forget.
And why do we do this?
Not to nurse a grudge. After all, the Egyptians who enslaved us passed into history thousands of years ago. We remember because to be vigilant against new oppressors. “In every generation they rise against us.” And so, the Passover liturgy (the Haggadah) continues: “In every generation we must see that we ourselves are personally emerging from bondage.”
It is from this defining experience that our moral sense emerges: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Some would try to restrict the meaning of this verse, which is central in both the Torah and the New Testament. But only a person who has forgotten the experience of bondage would say this. In closing, I will leave you with the larger context of this verse, taken from Leviticus 19:8-18 (translation: English Standard Version):
9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.
11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
We cancelled our Passover Seder this year due to the pandemic. But we did not forget.
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