thoughts on radical passover


when st. francis exclaimed that he desired to become god’s instrument for the bestowing of blessings on all beings, or when the bodhisattva vows not to rest until all beings are saved before she herself attains her own salvation, the central idea in these teachings is not the claim that devotion to their exulted persons or to their religious offices and theological beliefs will serve as a conduit for the salvation of the rest of us. it is quite the contrary. the fundamental premise is that each of us must personally become that instrument of peace, and each of us must personally take those vows of salvation. it is not their own personal salvations they seek, except for that which comes to us through the salvation of other beings.

this is precisely what the passover prayer says: in each generation each person must see himself personally as having been one of those who left egypt. in other words: there is nothing that prevents us from being saved except for the way we live our lives with each other and with our own selves.

when we focus on our own selves alone, we lose the world. when we focus on the world alone we lose ourselves. but when we focus not within and not without but we turn instead toward the between, the world will meet our true selves and each will save the other. the kotzker rebbe said: god, who one of his attributes is precisely to be omnipresent, is there only where we let him in. what must we do to let god in? he said: when you look in the eyes of every man and woman and realize they are your own brothers and sisters. and francis added that the sun and the moon are his brothers and sisters too. moses resigned his own personal freedom to save his people from bondage because he realized, as did francis and all the boddhistavas, and as martin luther king said, did and died for, that one will never be truly free until and unless his brothers and sisters are free too.

passover means this: social justice, economic equality and political freedom are essential manifestations of the will of god, and as such, they constitute the foundations for a genuine spiritual practice.

dialogue is the intentional form of relationships in which all beings, both sentient and insentient, are regarded as “thou” rather than “it”. it makes no difference whether beings are sentient or insentient, for it is the relationship itself that determines both the kind of society we build as our home in the world, and the kind of human-resident we will to be. when we say “it” we become “it”, when we say “thou” we become “thou”. and since god is that being who is eternally a thou, we cannot approach the presence of divinity in our lives other than through the i-thou embrace of all beings. in other words, the god in us is the god between us.

and this is the fundamental point: itification is commodification. in other words, “it” is the social and economic process by which we render other beings as commodities in the market place of capital interactions. to cease regarding other beings as “it”, we must cease the type of relationships in which beings become commodities. in concrete and practical senses, we must cease the deeds that result in the commodification of the two dimensions of existence: time and space. this can only be accomplished through the mutual integration of two simultaneous processes: the social, economic and political transformation of society, and the transformation of human consciousness in its deeds of relationship with both self and others.

it is perhaps the biblical holiday of passover that best exemplifies the concepts of radical dialogical transformation. passover is the holiday of freedom. the hebrews were slaves in the land of “mitzrayim”, which is a word that means narrowness or constriction. what did this constriction consist of? it consisted of social and economic injustice. from a biblical perspective, passover is first and foremost an event of social justice and political freedom, as these freedoms are deemed to be the preconditions for the attainment of any other freedom, inner or outer. it is for that reason that god did not reveal the torah to the people while still inside egypt, but only after freedom from slavery was attained. and it is for that same reason that the torah was not given to the oppressors but to the oppressed. passover is the biblical foundation of all liberation theologies, and as such, it is the first manifestation in the unfolding creation of the messianic dream.

passover teaches an essential foundation of all dialogical thinking: no being, be that human or object, is sacred in itself. sacredness is not a component of being, it it is quality of being that must be conferred to it through deeds of dialogue. when moses in the desert destroyed the tablets of god, he made them holy by his deed of rebellion and moral outrage. dialogue is the greatest challenge of all life, for we are capable of both, imbuing sacredness to a being or do the exact opposite, to de-secrate it. the moment of inception of sacredness is the saying of thou to a being. that moment of inception vanishes and comes back as we continuously attempt to follow our life-paths on the narrow ridge of existence. nothing becomes sacred other than by i-thou dialogue. there are no ritual sacraments or intentions of the heart that alone can touch the essence of a being. only our whole-being can say thou and only the deed of thou makes everything sacred. just as moses proved with his deed of braking the tablets of the law that were handwritten by god himself, nothing at all is sacred in itself, except for the sacredness we confer to being through the deed of thou. a life directed by the refusal to say “it” to any being is alone the life of thou made manifest.


liberation is of the whole-being, it is not only a state of consciousness, nor it is only a way of behavior that exhibits a compassionate orientation towards the other. we can go even further and say that liberation is not even a goal, for it is primarily the means to a goal. or in other words, we become liberated not just to be free and enlightened, but to engage our freedom and enlightenment in the existential passings and remainings of our daily lives with each other and with the world as a whole. the ultimate ideal is to actualize a whole-being existence manifested as both a fully conscious and a thoroughly dialogical life, and that goal requires the inner and outer transformations of our persons and communities.

however, in the path to liberation, one error in our thinking argues that we will not be able to change or transform society unless two conditions are met first: 1. we must change and transform our own selves 2. as a result of this inner transformation we will develop the capacity to love each other and make that love manifest. i argue that the error in this thinking consists on three false premises. 1. loving each other is not a requirement for the transformation of society. deep and abiding love is our ultimate desirable goal, but it is a consciousness of responsive compassion what is necessary at first, and what in the final account, a free society might actually consists of. 2. love does not grow in an ontological vacuum. we cannot pray, meditate or dream our ways to love, we must be the love we pray for, and our love must be the meditation we practice. love develops in the between of a relationship and as a response to it. we are not individuals isolated from each other, we are persons living within a profound existential connection of interbeing. therefore it is clear that love does not grow in some spiritual petry dish incubator, stored inside an enlightenment laboratory where it slowly develops itself under optimal conditions until it reaches that equally optimal level of development ready for introduction to the environment. love grows and develops as we work on the transformation of both society and ourselves, not in the isolation of disembodied mental exercises, but as we practice the sacrament of the neighbor. we need both our minds and our relationships, as the development of love occurs in the engagement with the needs, realities and disappointments of real life. ultimately we need to understand that inner work and outer work are not two separate and distinct deeds, they are one and the same, and when we separate them from each other we are left with neither. 3. love is a deed and love is a feeling, and it can only be made manifest in our relationships with each other and with nature. but here is the passover-key to the entirety of the dialogical approach: loving relationships can only be actualized if we transform the current economic system of work and commodification of our beings. to the extent that we remain willing-slaves to the current system of work and commodification for our very survival, we will be compelled to continue to commodify our bodies and minds and those of our fellow others, both humans and nature. we are not it-commodities, we are thou-persons, but for as long as we remain within this type of systemic bondage, we, by definition and reality, cannot be, nor will we ever become free beings. and this is truly tragic, as only free beings can live a life of love, for love is nothing but the freeing and enlightenment of our human-being.


the prophet of passover:

passover is not only about freeing ourselves from our” egos”, or about breaking away from the “narrowness or constriction” (mitzrayim) of our individual selves. let us at least leave this one holiday free from our western obsession with “new-ageizing” every existing spiritual practice. passover is about social revolution, about freedom from political and economic bondage, about creating a free-holy community. the prophet of passover is not rumi, or st francis, or the buddha, but the irate moses, the irascible, flawed, impatient, revolutionary, rebel moses. the modern day passover prophet is not the zen master on his cushion, it is martin luther king on the bridges of selma. of course that no-ego and peace of mind are all part of the overall redemption of our human nature, but in passover we understand that social freedom precedes personal freedom, just as every descendant of holocaust survivors, and every slave and oppressed person in the world knows only too well. personal and social freedom must be made into one and the same practice, otherwise we will have neither.

from “thoughts on radical passover”, by hune margulies

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