Memory Re-imagined

Pesach is about liberation, liberation from slavery in Egypt retold as a memory, almost a historical memory, but nevertheless a very real memory. But these days none of us is feeling particularly liberated. More likely imprisoned, enslaved in our own Egypts, forced to labour within our own four walls in lockdown circumstances. We ask the government to let us go out, and the answer is no!


This time the plague is not historical but present, and it’s just as dangerous as the last of the biblical plagues – death doings its rounds at night. I read somewhere on Facebook that someone had decided to paint lamb’s blood on their doorpost. I was tempted to click the laugh icon, then I stopped to think. If you could do something to be sure Corona passed your door you would do it, right?  I guess all we can do is stay inside, follow the regulations, listen to our Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès and our Minister of Health Maggie De Block, our present-day, hard-hearted Pharaohs telling us we cannot go out.  None of us is feeling liberated.

Or am I missing something?

Pesach is more than just commemorating a historical memory. It’s also about bringing the past into the present, about being there in Egypt with my fellow Hebrew slaves, about experiencing what they did here and now, experiencing God’s liberating intervention in history. The Haggadah says, “In every generation, each person must see themselves as if they had come out of Egypt.” As we read the Haggadah, we create a bridge in time and turn the past into the present.

So maybe I’ve been liberated from something after all.  I’m more conscious now than ever before of my community, now that I can’t actually meet you. I feel a greater need to reach out to you, to make sure you’re OK, especially those of you who are more vulnerable and in need of that little bit of extra care.  I’m more conscious of my family, of the need to be patient with them, to hold them more and to hug them more. 

Maybe I’ve been liberated from a little bit of my ‘self’.

Pesach is also about the future. We are asked to imagine the future in the same way as our memory of the past, bring it into the present at our Seder table.  We can’t see into the future, but our tradition, particularly now at Pesach, invites us to imagine it as if it were also a memory, a memory of future liberation, free from slavery, liberated from our Egypts.

And this is our Jewish approach: Pesach is threefold – historical memory remembered, incarnated memory in the here and now, and imagined memory in the future. We conclude our Seder with the words “Next year in Jerusalem!”  For me that will be literal, as I’m expecting to be in Jerusalem for five months next year, but what does Jerusalem look like for you? Each year we are liberated from something and called to imagine our Jerusalem. What does Jerusalem look like in a post-corona world?

Brian Doyle

IJC Rabbinical Intern

Shabbat Chol Ha’moed Pesach – April 11 2020 / Nisan 17 5780