Telling Our Stories

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, April 5, 2016

I especially enjoy listening to podcasts when I’m on the Nordic Track. I learn something new, and it takes my focus off of exercising. My favorite podcasts are StoryCorps, This American Life and its Israeli companion podcast, Israel Story. Our stories are what makes us human, and what we share with others can increase understanding, build relationships, inspire others and make changes in our communities.

Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps says that “The mission of these podcasts is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”

We all have stories to tell. On Pesach, we conduct the Seder through the lens of the Haggadah, the book that literally means “The Telling”. we begin with “the Telling”, the Maggid, the repeating of the narrative of our story. The rabbis of the Talmud said: “Matchil b’gnut um’sayem b’shvach” Begin with degradation and end with glory”(Tractate Pesachim 116a) Their teaching suggests that the objective of the Maggid is not necessarily to recite the story’s facts, but rather to repeat the story in a way which highlights the core narrative, the redemptive journey. The degradation was that our ancestors were slaves, and the eventual glory, that they became a free people.

Throughout the Haggadah we tell our people’s story through a process of elaboration and explanation. Our rabbis teach that Whoever elaborates upon the telling of the Exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy. V’chol ha’marbeh l’saper b’yetziat Mitrayim, harei zeh meshubach.” A Chassidic teaching connects the Hebrew word for “story” as in “l’saper” (to tell a story) to the Hebrew noun for “sapphire”. When we tell our story it is like examining a precious stone that we look at from many perspectives and turn it in the light to reflect on the nuances of each part of the story. We see it sparkle in the light, a precious jewel that illuminates our understanding of our own personal story and our relationships to our loved ones and our ancestors stories. This results in a deeper and more meaningful connection with the Haggadah and by extension with our own spiritual lives.

The ability to tell our own stories is in itself a key message of the Haggadah. One of the hallmarks of slavery is the silencing of one’s voice, and the inner life, as the Zohar teaches that Egyptian slavery was the exile of speech. (Zohar 2:25b) When we have the freedom to tell our own stories, to repeat and recount the story of our people, to claim our voice, we can find ourselves in the story of the journey towards redemption. We have the ability to infuse the stories with meaning and interpretations and new perspectives and to change the world.

This year as you sit down at the Seder table, and tell the story of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom, take the time to tell your own stories. Ask questions and listen. Build new connections with the friends and family around your Seder table. What journey best describes your own family’s story?

Chag Pesach Sameach!

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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