Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pesach and Holi: Breaking free to care

At first glance, it is difficult to see the similarities between the Jewish Passover holiday and the Hindu festival of Holi, both celebrated this week. The Passover story is based on the One God who took the Jewish people out of slavery and made them into a nation. The Holi polytheistic mythology is based on events by demons and deities leading to the salvation of a pious son (Prahlada) over his tyrannical demon father. The two back stories seemingly cannot be any more different. Nevertheless,  they do share one interesting characteristic that I realized last week while volunteering with vulnerable children in the slums of Mumbai.

In celebrating Passover we get rid of the leavened bread in our homes, a very strong commandment by God to the Jewish people who were freed from Egypt with only unleavened wafers (Matzah) in the sacks on their backs. The rabbis teach us that leavened bread (Chametz) symbolizes the excess that we have in our lives, whether material goods, swelling egos, inflated self-importance or other things in our lives that imprison and enslave our true selves. So we are told to get rid of the excess and unchain ourselves from the dependence on meaningless things that often fill our lives. The eating of simple matzah makes us free to think about what true liberation is to us. The goal is to be free.

Holi’s most enjoyable ritual for kids (and the young at heart) is a fantastic custom of throwing colored powder (Abeer) on friends and strangers alike. One idea behind this joyous ritual is that Holi marks the beginning of Spring and we all should be grateful, and take time out of our work day to enjoy the beautiful colors seen in nature at this time of year. Additionally, as it was explained to me, the throwing of bright colors causes all types of people to forgo their individual ‘look’ and join the multitudes of people on the streets, casting off their status, type of clothes, and ego in order to unify together in a brilliant show of brotherly harmony, breaking free of convention and rank.

Both holidays stress the importance of casting our egos aside to achieve a certain amount of freedom. But freedom as an end-goal is incomplete.  At the Passover Seder we invite all those who are hungry to join in our meal. We talk about the awful effects of slavery and discuss current social justice troubles in the world. And at Holi, many Hindus perform Holi Milan, visiting many people, singing songs and promoting the brotherhood among the people.

In both holidays, the message of freedom leads to the encouragement of care and love for others. The goal of freedom is not that we are just free but that we make this world a better place. This is the true meaning of freedom, and social justice for all is the true meaning of liberty.

Chag Sameach, and Happy Holi to us all!

No comments:

Post a Comment