Like no other story, Passover and the Exodus is ours! It’s is the beginning of Jewish peoplehood. Genesis may have marked God’s call to Abraham and God’s message to a particular family or clan – but the slavery experience and the liberation that followed marks the coming together of the Jewish people. It is acknowledged in many of our prayers and has become a centerpiece of our liturgical year.
Retelling that story is a celebration of our history and our survival. It is perhaps why, more than any other ritual, Jews take Passover to heart. Families travel and gather. While the seder experience varies from home to home, around most tables it’s not just the festive meal, it’s the opportunity to share a powerful narrative with all of its symbolism and meaning.
But just as it is “our story” there is a universal dimension to the Holy Day. The script of the Haggadah requires that “in every generation each one of us is to feel as if she or he were redeemed from Egypt.” For American Jews that command to feel the personal connection to that redemption so long ago is difficult. Our lives are freer from the harsh oppressions experienced by our ancestors. We can joke that driving I-95 each day may well be akin to that ancient oppression, but we wonder if it is really possible to feel as if we ourselves came out of Egypt when we live relatively comfortable lives.
One answer is to understand the word mitzrayim or Egypt, not just as geographical place on an ancient map, but in its literal meaning – a “narrow place.” The Israelites were confined in that tight, constricted place they called mitzrayim. Their deliverance was a movement through the travails of a birth canal (crossing the Red Sea) to an emergence on the other side as a free people.
Symbolically we can connect to that experience in numerous ways. The headlines in a daily newspaper reveal millions of people each day who live in confined places. From horrific examples of refugees displaced by war and violence to those unjustly incarcerated or to the grim reality of more local communities affected by addictions – the responsibility taught at Passover remains. Can we really be free, when so many reside in confined, oppressed places?
How best to convey this particular and universal message has given rise to a publishing bonanza. Today there are a multitude of choices and visions when it comes to Haggadot. In the next couple of weeks either Rabbi Schultz or I would be most happy to sit down with you and share some of the possibilities available to help you find the text best suited to your family needs.
And please note this year Passover begins on Friday evening, March 30. Our home celebrations actually supersede our Friday night service. We’ll celebrate both Passover and the Sabbath communally on Saturday morning, March 31. But it is especially important that all connected to B’nai Israel have a place to celebrate; so please, if you are (or if you know of someone) looking for an invitation, please don’t stand on ceremony – a number of families are only too eager to include you at their table.