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april 23, 2024-15 nisan 5784

04/22/2024 04:49:16 PM


Chag Pesach Kasher v’Samei’ach—A joyous Passover

The approach of Passover 5784 raises fundamental questions for me as a practicing, affirming Jew. Since October 7, 2023, so much has been fundamentally thrown into chaos, hidden by ‘fog of war’ and open to debate on meta- levels: Connection to the Land of Israel, real needs of multiple ethnicities in the small area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, human suffering as all-out war is waged—to mention a few.

In the United States, as in many parts of the western world, the meteoric rise in antisemitic events reported—and insults too frequently experienced—add a specific poignancy to these days of Pesach that celebrate liberations in every generation.

One response for me has been refuge in the texts of Jewish tradition, a rich and deeply rewarding adventure. Over three sessions for our adult learning community, I used the traditional Haggadah shel Pesach as a source to delve into its ideas and inconsistencies—a very traditional approach. That volume is rich in its accumulation of each generation’s experiences and responses enabling our quest to keep the ancient contemporary—which means that three ideas can be guidelines for our Seder nights:

  1. If we are to respond to those who do not know why we celebrate, use their home language to tell the story.

  2. In preparation for leading the evening, think through the story you want to tell, whether ancient (Biblical) or your own family’s experiences in more modern times.

  3. Let the traditional text challenge your values and stimulate discussion.

One text I found especially germane this year opens the story-telling Maggid. It reads:

הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם. כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח. הָשַּׁתָּא הָכָא, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל. הָשַּׁתָּא עַבְדֵי, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין.  

This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.  Let anyone who is in need come and observe Passover. This year we are here; next year in the Land of Israel.  This year we are slaves; next year we shall be free.

Each sentence is enough for an entire evening of exploration, filled with the rich mix of Seder night experiences that make the holiday top, or nearly so, observance of every Jewish community—even the least religiously observant. Of course, the text says that, too: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”  The food is wonderful, of course, but the hunger for wisdom is spectacular. In a deeply rooted, individual way almost every contemporary Jew is likely to ask at some point where we came from, what our forebears experienced and how we live on as a people despite innumerable persecutions, dislocations and interruptions.

I think these ideas to be Jewish—without the use of an adjective defining what kind of Jew. In the modern Orthodox version of the Haggadah shel Pesach edited with commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, he notes:

“The story of the Exodus is more than a recounting (sipur) of things that happened long ago. It binds the present to the past and future. It connects one generation to the next. It joins us to our children. Jewish continuity means that each successive generation commits itself to continuing the story. Our past lives on in us.”  [Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, 2003]

If we agree with Rabbi Sacks, there is no better opportunity than this festive season to unroll the story that is our own, our family’s and our community’s. Like the ancient leyl sh’murim—night of watchfulness—the revelation itself is redemptive.

It also is not final—more like a draft of the possible text and context for attaining a resonant, full and meaningful understanding of our existence. It prepares each of us for the challenges of here and now, the today and tomorrow of our lives. 

In the words of the song:

Teach Your Children

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

You, who are on the road

Must have a code that you can live by

And so, become yourself

Because the past is just a goodbye

Teach your children well

Their father's hell did slowly go by

And feed them on your dreams

The one they pick's the one you'll know by

Don't you ever ask them, "Why?"

If they told you, you would cry

So just look at them and sigh

And know they love you

And you (Can you hear?) of tender years (And do you care?)

Can't know the fears (And can you see?)

That your elders grew by (We must be free)

And so, please help (To teach your children)

Them with your youth (What you believe in)

They seek the truth (Make a world)

Before they can die (That we can live in)

And teach your parents well

Their children's hell will slowly go by

And feed them on your dreams

The one they pick's the one you'll know by

Don't you ever ask them, "Why?

If they told you, you will cry

So just look at them and sigh

And know they love you

Songwriters: Graham William Nash. For non-commercial use only.


Teach the children well ( with lyrics) - Crosby Stills


A happy Pesach. A joyous year.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784