There was a girl who used to journey from her home into the woods every day to pray. She would leave her house, walk the long path winding through the trees, and pray to God. Upon finishing her prayer, she would walk the long path back home. Since this was the girl’s daily ritual, her mother noticed and asked her, “Why do you go to the woods to pray? You know, you can pray anywhere because God is the same everywhere.” The girl responded, “God might be the same, but I’m not.”
The obvious lesson of this story is that there are different environments and places which help each of us reach God in a special way, not because of God’s presence, but because of our own spiritual connections. I’ve heard this story time and time again, and come up with this same message; however, this Passover I take another layer of meaning from it.
On Passover we recount the age-old story we know so well. Our story of redemption that we re-live every day in our liturgy as well as every year when we read the Book of Exodus. I’ve always wondered why we spend so much time on this particular story. Why do we need to recount this redemption every day? From our story of the girl who prays in the woods we learn that we, as humans, are different everywhere. But this also applies to time. Every time - day, week, month, year - we hear a story, we take something new from it, because we are new. We are evolving. Every year when we hear the Passover story we are in a different place in our lives to hear it and therefore can and should take new meaning from it.
In this spirit, this year I offer a teaching about Passover that is new to me. In Psalm 118:5, we read, “In distress I called on the Eternal, and the Eternal answered me and brought me relief.” In this verse “in distress” is a translation of hametzar, from the same root as mitzrayim. In the Tanakh, we know mitzrayim as Egypt, but it’s literal translation is “narrow place.” During Passover, we talk about ourselves as yatzah m’mitzrayim, brought out of Egypt, but what if we used the more literal translation- brought out of a narrow place? Or if we used the translation from the psalm- brought out of a place of distress? This Passover, I invite us all to think about the narrow places in which we find ourselves. What would we need to bring ourselves out of that narrow place? As our psalm suggests, do we call out to God? From where do we seek help?
Just as the little girl sought out what she needed from a spiritual place, may we all have the strength and courage to seek out what we need this Passover, to learn a new lesson from this age-old story, and ask for the help we need to emerge from our distress, our narrow place.
Ariel Milan-Polisar is a second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She is passionate about helping people create meaningful Jewish experiences and develop authentic relationships. Ariel is a WRJ YES fund scholarship recipient.