Passover, the Promised Land, and the Crisis of our Borders


Humanitarian values include the basic right to seek asylum, as enshrined in both international and US law.


Matt Gush/AdobeStock


“We have the choice whether or not we harden our hearts like the pharaoh.” - Shmuly Yanklowitz

We are in the middle of the 8 days of the Jewish Passover holiday and story. Yesterday, my video focused on the increasing “hardening of the heart” of the Pharaoh as he repeatedly agreed, then changed his mind, in regard to letting the Israelite slaves leave to reach their “promised land.” After each of the 10 plaques, his heart kept hardening. The 10th plaque brought on the killing first of the Egyptian firstborn and then the Egyptian army.

Our current hardening of the hearts seems to be occurring in the wars, political conflicts, marriages, student protests, collegial relationships, and elsewhere as positions become increasingly entrenched, often spurred by feelings of humiliation.

One ongoing modern example that resonates with the Passover story are the large numbers of people seeking asylum across our Southwest border as they try to reach the “promised land” of “The American Dream.” These refugees are usually fleeing violence, persecution, poverty, and disasters.1

Humanitarian values include the basic right to seek asylum, as enshrined in both international and US law. Additionally, human rights include the rights of asylum-seekers to humane treatment. To seek asylum, one must reach the United States and believe you will be in danger of persecution if you return to the country of origin.

Just as the saying “there is no health without mental health” goes, that applies to asylum-seekers that reach the United States. Along with basic human needs like food and shelter is substantial trauma exposure and undue anxiety in the majority.2 Obstacles abound, however, including distrust in the immigrants of the government and overwhelmed border staff. When children are separated from parents, great loss and depression usually follow.

The Passover responsibility is to not only have empathy for the oppressed, but to take some responsibility for their well-being.

The American Psychiatric Association released a related May 2022 "Position Statement on the Mental Health Needs of Immigrants and People Affected by Forced Displacement,” but it is unclear whether it has made any difference. That leaves each of us with some soul-searching about if—and how—we want to help in any way possible. Patience, compassion, and using our expertise can soften our hearts.

But there are more borders of concern. In the Passover story, the Israelites had to overcome their slave mentality. There are also barriers, invisible ones, within our “promised land.” The homeless have basic humanitarian needs in reaching our “promised land” that is often right in front of them. Women have barriers in certain states for abortion. There are temporary gates at some colleges to contain volatile student protests. Mental challenges and cultish thinking reduce freedom of mind. However, guns are potentially easily available to most everyone.

Inside or outside our country’s boundaries, we need to be reminded of the famous 1883 poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. It closes with:

“Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“Me” in the poem is the Statue of Liberty; “we” in Psychiatric Times are mental health caregivers. That Status of Liberty is in the bay to enter Manhattan; the annual American Psychiatric Association meeting is soon coming to Manhattan. Together, let’s open the golden doors wherever we can and provide those who need it with the basic humanitarian needs and more.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Yanklowitz S. The border crisis demands our humanity. Passover reminds us how. Chicago Tribune. April 23, 2024. April 25, 2024.

2. Morales FR, Nguyen-Finn KL, Haidar M, Mercado A. Humanitarianism crisis on the US-Mexico border: mental health needs of refugees and asylum seekers. Curr Opin Psychol. 2022;48:101452.

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