Mouthing Off

From a man’s mouth you can tell what he is. (Zohar Bamidbar 193)

Passover is a holiday of the mouth. The Hebrew word Pesach can be heard as two words: Peh sach, the speaking mouth. The Passover story of Exodus, liberation and redemption, traces from the mouth, starting with the cries of a people who descended so low in degradation and slavery that all they could muster were groans. Moses then spoke to truth to power, even with his speech impediment, calling Pharaoh to let the people go. And even once the people went free, liberation was not complete until they crossed the sea and sang their Song of the Sea to praise God for their freedom.

The groan of one so beaten down is the vocalization of a slave. Whether enslaved by a taskmaster, economics, illness or politics, groans alert us to the need for rescue. In our own time, these groans still are heard around the world, in our communities, and perhaps even in our own families. If we turn a deaf ear, then how can we hope for God's rescue? Passover instructs us to speak up on behalf of those who can only groan, or who are silent entirely.

Like Moses, a brave few resist tyrants and demagogues from the high platform of history.  Their words rail against abuse and rouse the world to change. These have been our modern prophets: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reinhold Neibuhr – each rooted in a theological tradition of speech to bring change. But we needn't be theologians or prophets to amplify the cry for freedom. Passover asks precisely this: hear the groans, speak the call to freedom, release the bound, cut the shackles.

But freedom isn't just the lack of outward shackle: freedom is incomplete until one offers praise for one's freedom. When the newly freed people cross through the sea they erupt in song. That's what the Song of the Sea teaches: freedom is complete only when the inner impulse to express gratitude becomes automatic and free-flowing like an unstoppable geyser. 

If our enslaved, impoverished, weary desert ancestors could do it, how about us who are relatively prosperous? In all we have, do we forget that we are not the Creator, the source or energy that manifests this world and all its possibility? Do we speak and sing gratitude for our lives, for what we have, for our freedom to have it? If not, then for our every outward appearance of freedom, inside we too are bound. What's stopping us?

Passover comes to remind us: we are to experience liberation not "as if" we were there but rather "because" we were there – perhaps because we still are there. If life's burdens keep us from singing gratitude for what we do have and for our freedom to have it, then inside we're not fully free. Passover beckons us into this timeless journey of bondage and liberation. We remember the times when we groaned (or still groan) under those burdens. We recall the times when spoke truth to power, when we celebrated our lives with gratitude, so that we can exercise those muscles. Countless millions today groan or are silenced completely. It's up to us to speak for them and then, step by step, help make the world more free from every oppression that burdens body and spirit.

You can tell a lot about a person by the quality of their speech and how they employ their words. What will come from your mouth this Passover, and after? Use your voice – groan if it's all you can do. Look for every chance to speak truth to power, stop oppression, free the bound and then let your free-flowing geyser of gratitude flow from you into the world. That's a path to freedom worth celebrating.

Spread the word.  R’ Evan. (dedicated to Karen Simon).