“The wicked child asks: What does this work mean to you? Mah ha’avodah ha’zot lachem” (Exodus 12:26). I think about this question a great deal as a rabbi whose core work involves fighting modern-day slavery. I think about it when I talk to my children about what I do every day, when I call anti-trafficking activists and say, “What can rabbis do to support you?” or when I stand before Jewish audiences and urge them to put their energy behind this critical human rights issue. The answer must go deeper than simply saying, “We were slaves in Egypt once upon a time.” The memory of bitterness does not necessarily inspire action. What inspires me is not slavery but redemption. God could part the Sea of Reeds, but the Israelites could not truly be free until they had liberated themselves, after 40 years in the desert, from slavery. . . .
May the one who blessed our ancestors, Avraham, Yitzḥak, and Yaakov, Yoseph, Moshe, and Aharon, David and Shlomo, Ruth, Sarah, Rivka, Miriam, Devorah, Tamar, and Raḥel, bless and safeguard and preserve the captives… . . .
God of all people’s souls: Hasten, we pray, to rescue the hundreds of Nigerian young girls, innocent students who, in horrific cruelty, were abducted from their houses and schools by inhumane criminals intending to sell them into slavery and torture them. . . .
Creator of heaven and earth, may it be Your will to free the captive wives of Israel when love and sanctity have fled the home, but their husbands bind them in the tatters of their ketubot. Remove the bitter burden from these agunot and soften the hearts of their misguided captors. Liberate Your faithful daughters from their anguish. Enable them to establish new homes and raise up children in peace. Grant wisdom to the judges of Israel; teach them to recognize oppression and rule against it. Infuse our rabbis with the courage to use their power for good alone. Blessed are you, Creator of heaven and earth, who frees the captives. . . .
We are grateful to Rabbi Joshua Boettinger and Rabbis for Human Rights–North America (RHR-NA) for sharing the following petitionary prayer, A Misheberakh for Victims of Slavery. Originally published by RHR-NA on their website in 2009, the prayer attends to the desperate need to eradicate all forms of slavery that persist today, especially in advance of the holiday celebrating our Z’man Cheruteinu, the season of our freedom, every Spring, every Pesaḥ. . . .