If there's just one piece of information that every Jew knows, it's that once we were slaves and then we became free.
Rabbi Larry Hoffman, Professor of Rite and Ritual at HUC-JIR, speaks of the Pesakh Seder as a mysterious magnet. Over thousands of years, the force at this magnet's center has attracted many hundreds of particles of human experience. It holds them all — our people's customs, memories, laws and legends — together, that we might share them with one another one night each year.
What is the mysterious force which draws all these particles together? Rabbi Hoffman teaches that it is the universal human yearning for freedom.
Think about it. If there's just one piece of information that every Jew knows, it's that once we were slaves and then we became free. And throughout time — no matter where we lived, no matter how difficult or easy our circumstances — members of our Jewish community have always cherished and defended every person's right to be free. That's why we were so active in the civil rights movement. That's why we were so concerned about apartheid in South Africa. That's why so many of us defend a woman's right to reproductive choice. And that's why we are so deeply concerned about hunger and homelessness in America, today.
And that's why it's such a valuable and important act to hold a Pesakh Seder in our homes.
There are many reasons for being Jewish and living Jewish lives (and therefore, participating in Jewish acts, like the Seder). Here are two.
First, Judaism reminds us of life's most precious and needed values (for example, how to live with one another without destroying one another). The Seder reminds us that our lives do not consist only of jobs and paychecks and family and vacations and bills and neat cars. Life is also about caring for one another, even when (especially when!) we're too tired, too stressed, too overextended to be worrying about anything but ourselves. The Seder (and by extension, all of Judaism) offers us the gift of dignity and honor. In a world and society that repeatedly permit us to step on other people's necks in order to "get ahead" and to "make it," we are asked (no, commanded!) to resist such selfish arrogance. We are to live, teach, and pursue ideals of community, social responsibility, and yes, freedom. When we join together in the Pesakh Seder, we renew our own commitment to our people's ancient (and blessedly stubborn!) faith in the dream of a united humanity. For us as adults, that's very healthy.
The second reason for living Jewish lives and participating in Jewish acts is children. They watch. They listen. And like it or not, they learn. So if they see and hear us devoting all our time to jobs and paychecks and family and vacations and bills and neat cars, they will learn to do the same (like it or not — although, perhaps you like that). But if, every now and then, we give them a taste of an incredibly rich and beautiful heritage (like Judaism), if we give them an event which transcends the daily minutae of our lives (like a Seder), if we give them truly important ideas to think about (like freedom and selflessness), maybe it will help. Maybe it will help them grow up to be the kind of people we'd like them to be — honest, principled, courageous.
Here at Woodlands, we think these are terrific reasons to value being Jewish and to hold a Seder! The world needs Passover and we do, too.
So become a part of the mystery. Feel the force of freedom at the magnet's center. Share its pull with someone you love. This year, give the story your own voice. And don't forget to have a great time while you're doing it!
A ziesen Pesakh — from our family to yours, may your Seder be sweet, and filled to overflowing with inspiring dreams of a world redeemed.