As Passover approaches this year, there is an atmosphere of hope in Israel. Last year, as we were commemorating the Jewish people’s Exodus from slavery to freedom, Israel and much of the rest of the world were under a strict lockdown, so most Jewish people were only able to hold modest Passover Seders (the ritual meal that reenacts the Exodus story) with their immediate families. Some people I know spent the holiday completely alone. Now, with Israeli health officials saying that further lockdowns are unlikely, it seems we have finally turned a corner.
Passover is significant in that it’s a time for Jews to reflect on the cycles of exile and redemption that are constantly taking place in the world — and within each one of us. After this past year, we all know something about the feeling of living in exile, distant from the people we love, and unable to safely gather together. While we certainly haven’t experienced the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt, as we study Scripture during the holiday we are able to stand in their shoes, remembering both the adversity they faced and the miracles they experienced. And with that, we’re learning something about redemption for our present moment as well.
Just as it was for the ancient Israelites, it can be hard for us to remember that God is with us during our moments of pain and suffering. It can be difficult to have faith when we feel like we don’t have control over our lives, and the hardships keep piling up. I believe the reason God wants us to relive this story every year is to show us that it is only when we recognize that he is with us in the challenging moments, as well in moments of blessing and triumph, that we can attain complete faith in him. The story of the Israelites being slaves in Egypt remind us that although it might sometimes feel like it, we are never truly alone. God never leaves our side.
Do we recognize God’s presence during the portion of the Exodus story that recounts the torturous years the Israelites spent under Pharaoh’s rule? Perhaps not. Yet in the story we see that when the burden on the Israelites grew so heavy that they doubted their ability to survive, they cried out to God, and he heard their pleas for help. God responded with 10 plagues against the Egyptians, reminding the world of his eternal sovereignty and presence. Because of these miracles, the Israelites left Egypt and began their journey to the Promised Land.
This story serves as a reminder that not only is God sovereign, he is listening attentively to his children. He always hears our prayers.
As soon as the Jews left Egypt and traveled through the desert, the miracles God performed to help them reach the Promised Land were unending. Food and water were provided in the most remote places. Pillars of cloud and fire led them through the wilderness. I often imagine that God himself must have been happy to finally see his nation free, rather than slaves bound in shackles and chains. God truly wants to see us thrive and fulfill our destiny, but we can only do that when we recognize that we need his help.
In the desert, God gave the Jews the Torah on Sinai, one of the greatest gifts humankind ever received. How perfectly symbolic is that? Shortly after emerging from a state of abject misery, God brought them to a spiritual mountain top. This is a lesson that I try to remind myself of every day — sometimes we sink to the bottom before we rise to the top.
This year on Passover, I’m also reflecting on the fact that even today we face adversity just as the Israelites did in ancient times. Although we are blessed to have prophetically returned to Israel in the last century, and we have the United States and other free and democratic nations as committed allies, terrorism is a constant threat that Israel deals with on a daily basis. Moreover, after a year of isolation and economic devastation, our world is hurting. It will take a long time to rebuild our economies, to rebuild the conventions of normal human interaction, and to restore humanity physically, emotionally and spiritually.
But the Passover story tells me that it is precisely at this time that we need to remain faithful and seek God, asking him to be our shield, and believing miracles are always just around the corner. Yes, the world is weary, and so many have suffered devastating losses. Yet this sacred holiday renews my hope.
The story of the redemption of the Israelites gives me the confidence that God indeed hears our prayers, and he answers them in his perfect timing.
Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. As president of The Fellowship, she also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of the world’s largest, religious not-for-profit organizations, having raised $1.8 billion — mostly from Christians — to assist Israel and the Jewish people. She is the author of the newly released “Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to our Children.”