Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
Every year, as Passover and Easter approach, it's my custom and honor and joy to wish Passover and Easter blessings to all my Jewish and Christian readers. This year, I'm including three very different blessings about the same holidays. One is for all my readers who celebrate Passover, one for those who observe Easter and another for those who don't celebrate Passover or Easter. For those who celebrate Passover:
May your souls leave Egypt this year with your ancestors. Egypt is not just a place; it is a state of mind. The word Egypt in Hebrew, mitzrayim, has as its root meaning, meitzar, in the name of a narrow passage between two cliffs. It's a place of constriction, vulnerability and fear.
So when you come to the part of the Passover seder where we read the biblical commandment to see yourself as having left Egypt, even in future generations, I pray that you might visualize Egypt of the Bible as the narrow place you're going through right now in your life, a place keeping you from doing your best. God wants you to leave that place as you read the account of your ancestors leaving the real Egypt 3,000 years ago. I do not pray that your journey will be easy. Freedom is purchased dearly, but I do pray that you have the courage and love to complete the journey to your own promised land. That is the promise and the meaning of the Exodus and the holiday of Passover that is about to arrive and unfold again.
For those who celebrate Easter:
May you have the courage to see the crucifix and the joy to see the empty cross. I've always been moved by the different truths that Catholics and Protestants both see in the world's most important symbol -- the cross.
In Catholic churches, I always see the crucifix, which is, of course, the cross with Jesus' crucified body impaled upon it. This is the central truth of the cross for Christians. Jesus did not just come to Earth, but he came to suffer here, and through that suffering, to cleanse the sins of all humanity. May you see the sufferings in your own life this Easter as a sign that even out of despair and pain, the seeds of redemption can still grow.
The second truth of the cross is the bare cross I see in Protestant churches -- the truth of the risen Christ. It is the evidence of salvation and hope. It is the difference between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. May this Easter lead you beyond suffering to hope and Sunday joy.
For those who don't celebrate Passover or Easter:
In so many ways, these two holidays encapsulate hopes and joys that transcend even their religious origins. Let me begin by wishing you a happy springtime. Spring is not just another season. Spring is a moment in natural time that transcends nature.
It is the season of renewal. Like babies, springtime is God's inescapable message that life should go on.
Spring brings rebirth in nature, and whether every person embraces religious faith, there's no doubt that we human beings are a part of nature and nature's time. Spring is a natural revelation. As I've often said, for me it always seems to come back to trees. The buds of spring are proof that life has an edge over death in our world. If nature can renew itself, so can we.
With all my heart, I pray for a springtime renewal for you and those you love. In the world and in your life, the warm sun is going to shine again.
Q. My father is 87, Catholic, and a World War II veteran. As he confronts his mortality, he's troubled about how God will judge him for taking the lives of others in the call of duty during the war. -- A., via email
A. I often have to remind people of the moral and religious distinction between killing and murder. Most secular moral theories and most religious traditions agree that murder is prohibited, not killing. Killing is any taking of life, but murder is taking the life of an innocent person.
The soldiers who attacked your father in war were not innocent, and killing them was a justified act of personal and national self-defense. This doesn't make the pain of his battlefield struggles any less traumatic, but it should have allowed him to accept the bloody work his country needed from him in order to protect freedom and defeat tyranny.
Your father's Catholic faith ought to give him confidence that his faith in God and in the atoning death of Jesus on the cross will be enough to open the Pearly Gates to his soul when the time comes.