The message of Pesach

The message of Pesach

On Monday evening, in their respective time zones, Jews all over the world will sit down to a seder, a ritualized dinner party celebrating the Exodus from Egypt. Pesach – Passover – is one of the most unifying events in the annual life of our people. Even so-called secular Jews, even many of the unaffiliated, have some kind of Pesach experience.

And that means that for one night, at least, since not everyone celebrates a second seder, Jews all over the world share a common bond. For one night out of 365, Jews of all stripes and streams acknowledge a common heritage, and acknowledgment they might not make at other times.

There is even more at work, however. The seder is a ritual that goes back over two millennia at the least, and in some form probably much farther back, to our earliest beginnings. Therefore, we not only take one night out of a year to bind ourselves to our fellow Jews living today, but we tie ourselves as well to all those who came before us.

Our rituals differ other each others’ in many respects. Some people place the wrapped piece of broken afikoman on their shoulders to ritually enact a biblical passage about the unleavened dough carried out of Egypt on their shoulders. At some seders, all stand at one point and walk around the table, or go into the street and walk around the block, to relive the going out of Egypt. In many homes, only “watched” – shemurah – matzah is used at the seder, while in others a Syrian matzah, more like a flatbread pita, is the staple. Different sects have different texts.

Regardless of the differences, the effect is the same. One people on one night ties itself to one another and to a common ancestry and heritage. It is a daunting experience, not to be taken lightly.

The only question is what is it that we actually are celebrating. Are we merely celebrating the miraculous release from slavery, or is there a broader message that somehow must be conveyed?

The answer, of course, is that there is a broader message. Pesach is not just about the Ten Plagues and a divided sea. The Torah itself tells us that an “erev rav” – a “mixed multitude,” Israelites and non-Israelites – departed Egypt in that early morning hour when the pharaoh told them to go. Pesach is about the birth of freedom in the world. It is about recognizing that no one human being controls another. It is about understanding the Torah’s very first lesson: All of us are God’s children. All of us are equal because we all emerged from a single First Human. All of us deserve the honor and respect due to the members of our own family because, in the end, we all are one family.

The Pesach story does not end with Pesach. It continues for seven weeks and ends at Sinai, where the Israelites accept upon themselves the job description of a “kingdom of priests and holy nation.” Pesach reminds us that we are not only joined to each other, but that we have responsibilities to the Other as well.

We have to show the world that, in the words of Genesis 5:1, we are all part “of the record of Adam’s line.”

We cannot do that if we cannot accept that we ourselves are one people, able to find common ground amidst our differences.

May Pesach 5773 remind us of that lesson. We have many labels – Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrachi, modern Orthodox, charedi, chasidic, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, secular (chiloni), and traditional primary among them – but we are one people nonetheless.

Before we can reform the world, we have to concentrate on reforming ourselves.

From the publisher, editors, and staff of The Jewish Standard, may you all have an enjoyable and meaningful Pesach.