I Came Out of Egypt
As time goes by, the significance of our legacy grows. Along with that significance grows the responsibility of maintaining and transmitting our legacy. The time after Pesach is significant with regards to the responsibility of maintaining that legacy. During the seder we speak of
“vehigadeta levincha” – and you shall tell your child the story of the Jewish people. Transmitting our legacy is the mitzvah du jour.
Often I ponder about my personal legacy and what it means to transmit that to my children. As a convert, I am on the one hand a daughter of Avraham and Sarah like any other Jew, but there is also what I carry from before. These divergent threads intertwine to make up the rope of legacy that I wish to transmit.
A part of me is closer to Avraham and Sarah. When my name is mentioned ritually, I am referred to as Shoshana bat Avraham Avinu/Sarah Imeinu. But a part of me is a newcomer to all of that legacy, a giyoret, a foreigner. At the end of the day the history I transmit to my children is the same as every other Jew, via a channel that is unique to me. Perhaps this is true for all of us.
As we celebrate Pesach, we’re celebrating the exodus from Egypt. We’re commemorating the birth of our nation, a collective conversion of sorts. We were transformed overnight from being Egyptian slaves to proud Jews. The celebration of our birth as a people is very personal to me, for when I emerged from the mikvah two days before Pesach six years ago, I was reborn as a Jew. From this perspective, my personal history parallels our collective one.
It always puzzles me when other Jews ask me why I converted. Don’t they realize that our heritage is a treasure chest of ancient but eternal wisdom? A wisdom that has the potential to help you live a life of deep meaning and great satisfaction. From the first encounter I had with Judaism, something stirred deep within me. Every subsequent experience furthered that awakening, and I found that my Jewishness was something that was always there beneath the surface. The actual giyur formalized and solidified that which was always there.
It is not I who asks you to see things from my perspective, for you read it in the haggadah every year: “In each and every generation one must see himself as if he exited Egypt.” If we want to get this message across to our children, we must recognize that we aren’t sharing a historical experience that happened over 3,300 years ago. Rather, we must see ourselves as having exited Egypt in our own lifetimes. We all tell this story: I was in Egypt, G-d chose to take me out of there, and here I stand before you transformed, Jewish. In fact, this is a tenet of our faith. When we finally get to meet G-d face to face, he introduces himself as, “I am G-d your Lord who has taken you out of Egypt.” The “you” is in singular. So in a sense the tables have turned; while there are experiences that come to born-Jews naturally, ones that I’ve had to adapt to, this principle of our faith – seeing oneself as having left Egypt – I believe comes more naturally to me because of my conversion.
We each have our Egypt, our “scenic route,” our skeletons, weaknesses, and challenges. Leaving that Egypt behind becomes our unique path up Mt. Sinai. This journey is one that forever fuses each of our personal histories – what we each bring to our Judaism – with the collective legacy we all share. And thus the Torah repeatedly commands: Love the foreigner because you, too, were foreign in the land of Egypt. Once you feel the exodus from Egypt as real for you today, then it’s natural for you to identify with the convert. You and I are not so different, as you, too, are a first-generation Jew, in your own way.
Shoshana was born and raised in Norway and graduated from the University of Oslo with a degree in Religious Studies. She currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. with her husband and two young sons. Together with her husband she runs the Facebook page Yiddishkeit i mitt hjerte, a Norwegian language source for original Jewish content. https://www.facebook.com/yiddishkeitimitthjerte/ https://www.instagram.com/kosheriheimen/