This Passover, I am thinking a lot about the idea of how we share and retell our stories. Throughout my time at Hebrew Union College, we studied some of the work of theologian James Fowler. In Fowler’s book the Stages of Faith, he writes about the concept of faith development through, what he calls, master stories. He says: “master stories are the stories we tell ourselves and by which we interpret and respond to the events which impinge on our lives. These master stories are the characterizations of the patterns…that disclose the ultimate meanings of our lives.”
During my seders this year, I kept returning to reflecting on the significance of the exodus from Egypt as one of our Jewish communal master stories. Each year as Passover approaches, we make plans, we cook, sometimes we even travel to be with family or friends. And when it is time, we sit down at a table with a stack of matzah and our seder plates full of charoset and parsley and salt water and we pull out our Haggadot. The meaning of the word “Haggadah” in English is “telling”. The whole idea of our Haggadah is that we are retelling our story. Each year we read in our Haggadot the sentence “in each and every generation a person should see him/herself as one who had come forth from Egypt.” And it is not only during Passover that we remember this important event. It is also mentioned in the V’ahavta, in the Kiddush, during the Mi Chamocha. Jews have opportunities to contemplate this particular master story every day through prayer.
Yet, what is different on this night than all other nights? We don’t just mention the exodus from Egypt. On Passover, we retell it. We reenact it. We involve everyone who gathered at our tables in joining us in sharing this story, which was paramount to our development as a community and, which we are told, we should even see as impacting each of our own individual identities – “we should see ourselves as ones who have come forth from Egypt.”
I recently had the opportunity to serve as a guest educator at another congregation where I got to teach a lesson for a large group of their religious school teachers. I explained to them this concept of master stories and we briefly studied the specific text of the exodus from Egypt. I then asked each of them to take out their cell phones and to choose a photo that they had taken previously that was in their camera roll that they believe somehow represents a time when they “left Egypt.” They then got to write a caption for their photo and they shared their stories with a partner. Then, we got to reflect on some of the themes that came from their stories and how these impact the way we teach our master stories to our students.
The conversation was rich, and I would like to invite each of you to join it! Go ahead and try the exercise for yourself. When is a time that you felt that you somehow “left Egypt?” What were you feeling and thinking in that moment? What motivated you? What surprised you? How did you feel afterward? Just like the exodus from Egypt, these are our personal stories and they are important to share! So post those pictures, or find a friend and share the experience. This Passover, I invite you to celebrate your successes and to reflect on the way we share our own stories.
- Mandy Herlich, RJE