Words count! Language is not designed for gratuitous expression, to insult, debase or harm others - though words clearly can be used in an abusive and destructive fashion. The Seders that are the core of the Passover experiences are a dramatic retelling of the formative moment in Jewish history - and the words create our core values. The Seder is the sacred script of words to convey values from our past to infuse our present time with deep meaning. Passover conveys the genius of Judaism to each generation within the embracing warmth of our homes.
We are justifiably in awe of the memories we magically create with each Seder. And the nexus of family, traditions and fabulous foods are the stirring ingredients in the teaching and living of our fundamental values as articulated by the ethical words of the Haggadah (which means “to tell”).
The glory and grandeur of our faith is that history is ever relevant and that the lessons of yesteryears become the moral imperative of today. At our Seders there are many fashions by which we weave together creative activities and new traditions in order to provide entry points of meaning for those of all ages and backgrounds. The DHJC guide for Passover will be mailed to you and on-line in the weeks prior to Pesach and there are a myriad of opportunities presented as to how to create more engaging Seder celebrations. In addition, Passover workshops are being offered at DHJC to empower Seder leaders to make their words and messages count.
Passover is also meant to be fun for the children and grandchildren - as exemplified by the songs and games (searching for the afikomen is an ancient hide and seek!) and even the very foods on the Seder plate. Ultimately the Seder is about an idea, and intellectual grasp of what true liberation is all about. In the narrative of the Seder (spoiler alert), our people became free. Not only free from the servitude and bondage of an oppressive tyrant but we leave behind the emotional and profound psychological burden and truly become free. We leave Egypt behind and we expunge Egypt from our psyche and transcend the past. And as Judaism articulates Passover as the voice of freedom and liberation for our people, then it becomes self-apparent that true freedom is not implying an opportunity for some, it is the destiny for all peoples.
I commend to your attention a deeply and soulfully satisfying book published last month and written by the leading European intellectual, Bernard-Henri Levy, entitled, The Genius of Judaism. Levy takes each reader on a majestic exploration of the glorious history and heritage of our people in contrast to the ongoing hatreds and lies that led to the Crusades, the Holocaust and cabals and calumnies against Israel and Zionism. Above all, Levy masterfully alerts every person to the glory of Judaism and to choose to be open to the message of our sacred texts in the full awareness of the diversity of Jews and Jewish living.
In this light, the power of Torah is unlike any other sacred scripture. Where other faiths memorize their scriptures, submit to their texts, and faithfully and obediently follow the texts, Judaism is counter-intuitive. We encounter the text, grapple with the text, challenge the text, have layer upon layer of commentary upon the text, argue with the text - and the Haggadah of Passover is but one example, through confronting the text we create meaning, a meaning that is infinite and above all a meaning that has us "discover oneself in what one has learned."
Bernard-Henri Levy brings us to realize that our argumentation and layers of meaning in the Passover narrative focus on the ultimate liberation then and now! We do not demonize even our enemies, we do not gloat when others are vanquished, we feel the pain and the anguish when anyone suffers and are impelled by our sacred texts to always remember that precisely because we experience slavery AND liberation, that it is our mandate to empower others to experience liberation as well.
One quote illustrates this point in light of the political tensions in our country. Levy pens in, The Genius of Judaism, “The lesson here is clear. A lesson that might be of use to those, who as I proof these pages are 'fussing' about "the migrants ", slamming the door in their faces on the pretext that there are some disguised Amalekites (terrorists) among them, and calculating how much they are going to cost the "native stock." The lesson is that decisions must be made in the moment and based upon the circumstances of the moment. Do whatever must be done today without worrying too much about what may or may not happen tomorrow. And, as it is said on the Jewish New Year, judge people where they are now, in their current moral and mental state, without worrying excessively about what they really have in their hearts and bellies. Stop the rivers of blood....”
Ponder this powerful statement by Levy and read his work. Challenge our sacred scriptures at home and in Shul and above all, be challenged by the text and in that moment you will create great meaning and soulful inspiration! Mah Nishtanna Ha-Laila Hazeh - the nights and days of Passover can be and ought to be different for us this year. May we create meaning in the moments and may we truly be free from intolerance and bias. Words count... and may the truth of Passover inspire us to understand freedom and liberation, then and now!
Laura along with Yael, Yair and Lev, Aviva, Hillel, Eliezer and Tamar and Noam join me in wishing you and your loved ones a soulfully rich Pesach!