Easter Sunday has always been special to me. Spring colors, Easter music at church and a wonderful meal with friends and family make me think of home. In Judaism, the Passover Seder is a meal where you and your closest family and friends retell the story of the Exodus. Like all great meals, one story leads to another and before you know it, you are sharing your life with people you care about — and what could be better than that?
I attended a community Seder this year and enjoyed the point in the Haggadah, the story, wherein the rabbi asked, “How many levels of favor has God bestowed on us?” In response, people at the table remember together God’s many blessings and in each case proclaim, Dayenu, it would have been enough. For example:
“If God had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against Pharaoh, Dayenu, it would have been enough!”
“If God had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land, Dayenu, it would have been enough!”
The story continues predictably and this section of the Haggadah concludes with the question, “How much more so should we be grateful for God’s goodness?” Having read this, the rabbi reminded us that the story continues in our own lives because God is always a blessing to us and we therefore should be a blessing to others. In my own life, I might acknowledge, “If God had provided me with a loving supportive family and not an education, it would have been enough.” Or, “If God provided me with a great job and not the money to do the work, it would have been enough.” God has done this and more, so it is up to me to share what I have received.
In the Easter story, the night before he was arrested, Jesus shared a meal — perhaps even a Passover meal — with his disciples. He reminded them that he did not come to be served but to serve others — and the same would be expected of them. And so the idea that, as people of faith, we are called to be a blessing to one another and the world — that we are to serve others — runs deep for both Christians and Jews.
In Judaism, the concept of Tikkun Olam refers to a responsibility to “repair/heal the world.” It is often cited as a reason to do good works and build right relationships with one another. In contrast, Christians take a more individualistic approach that grows out of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is perhaps a different route that reaches the same conclusion: God wants good things for us and we honor God when we do our part to help.
I see it in my work all the time, people of faith drawing on their understanding of God in their lives that leads them to share what they have — time, money, talent — with strangers. For example, almost every faith tradition believes that we have a moral or religious obligation to feed hungry people. As a result, we see a robust network for voluntary giving through food banks, church and community pantries, and more recently backpack programs and community gardens.
These same volunteers often also advocate for public policy change that both supports and helps build opportunities for low-income families. Their experience of serving others and literally filling bags of food for families in need makes them powerful advocates for programs like SNAP, WIC and School Meals, that help struggling families and often make the difference between food on the dinner table or going without.
I believe we, as people of faith, benefit in innumerable ways from our rich religious traditions and the wisdom of our holy texts. Through this lens we can see beyond our immediate or parochial interests toward a clearer vision of the common good. In this season of Passover and Easter, I encourage each of us to consider again what we believe and how we will live with integrity in the context of our faith. I hope we will all find ways to always be a blessing to each other — to serve one another and be advocates for just public policies that set right historic or systematic inequality.
God has provided for us in abundance and it is up to us to make sure everyone has what they need.
(This piece was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday, March 31, 2013)