The formative experience of the Jewish people is our having been vulnerable outsiders in the land of Egypt.
In light of that, the Bible seeks to amplify our love, care, and concern for the vulnerable outsider. We are taught not to oppress the vulnerable outsider (Exodus), and more than that, to actively love them (Leviticus and Deuteronomy).
It’s crucial for us to notice just how non-obvious this commandment really is.
There are two possible reactions we can have to our suffering:
The first is to say that since we’ve suffered in horrific ways, we don’t owe anyone anything; the other is to say that since we’ve suffered in horrific ways, we want to make sure no one else has to endure what we did.
In truth, I suspect that many people who have been traumatized feel both of those voices inside them. The Torah invites us (commands us) to nurture the second voice and rein in the first.
In other words, memory in and of itself has no moral meaning. We shape the memory that in turn shapes us. In this moral sense, we become the authors of our own memory,
The Torah invites us to let memory teach us empathy (“for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt”). And it invites us to let our suffering teach us love.
What is true of the national story is true of our personal stories as well. There are few more powerful spiritual challenges than this one: Let your memory teach you empathy, and let your suffering teach you love.
Pesah-Passover is not just about telling our national story, though it is first and foremost that. It is also about asking what life has taught us, and about whether we are willing to undertake the daunting task of learning to love the vulnerable among us.
And here’s the radical clincher: all over the ancient world, cultures emphasize the need to protect widows and orphans.
The Bible’s moral revolution is that it expanded that category to include the ger, the vulnerable outsider. In other words, we are summoned to love not just *our* vulnerable but *the* vulnerable.
Good people can disagree about what that concretely ought to look like in this day and age; but they cannot in good faith disagree about its importance.
May we merit to turn our suffering into love.