Because We Were Slaves

עבדים היינו

“Even if we do not know the particular experience…we do carry with us the collective memory of being alienated and mistreated.”

-Professor Alyssa Gray, HUC-JIR[1]

Because We Were Slaves

photo by Henri Ismail

Jews are the inheritors of this collective memory, and should we forget, every year during Passover, the Haggadah reminds us: Avadim hayyinu. We were slaves. Retelling the story of God’s intercession in history and His redemption of our ancestors from slavery does more than remind us about something that happened long ago in order to teach us where we came from. According to the tradition, we actually relive the story in the first person, as if it were we who went out from Egypt. In our experientially remembering our ancestors’ slavery, we remain sensitive to the struggles of today’s slaves.

The Torah repeatedly tells us to remember our history as slaves. It forbids us from oppressing the stranger, reminding us, “You know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”[2] Even more than forbidding our oppression of the other, the Torah commands us to uphold his rights[3] and to befriend him.[4] With this in mind, we partner with God in humankind’s liberation, fulfilling our responsibilities to our ancestors and to the Jewish tradition.


[1] Huffington Post, February 2012.

[2] Exodus 23:9

[3] Deuteronomy 24:17

[4] Deuteronomy 10:19