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Passover Reflection: A Jewish Perspective

Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC / Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC /

Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC /

At this time of year, Jewish families around the world gather to celebrate Passover by having a Seder (which means order).  This celebration has its roots in the Bible which calls for a seven day holiday, without leavened foods, and an special paschal lamb sacrifice to remember the exodus from Egypt.  Over time the traditions and customs changes, especially when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish sacrificial cult system adapted to a home and synagogue based prayer and learning system.  The tradition transformed into what we have today, a gathering to share the story, eat special foods symbolic of slavery and freedom, celebrate with 4 cups of wine to remember our redemption and sing songs of Gods glory.

In one particularly wonderful part of this ordered meal, using our Haggadah (which means “the telling”) we let the children come forward and ask four questions – “what makes this night different from all other nights” they ask.  We eat unleavened bread, we eat bitter herbs, we recline and relax, and we dip our foods many times – how come?  From a pedagogic perspective it makes sense to include our children in this event and through their questions we can begin the story and celebration.  Moreover it helps everyone, adults and children alike, because it allows for give and take, for asking questions and posing problems.

This is what it means to be Jewish, to delve into our customs and rituals, to challenge and explore, to argue and tease out answers and engage in both our ancient texts and modern issues that can arise from it.  When we discuss our history as slaves in Egypt, we are reminded that each one of us should think of ourselves as having been freed from slavery.  This engages each Jew, as a participant in our people’s story.

But we also are forced to consider who are slaves today.  Where is there injustice?  Who is seeking freedom?  How can we help those who suffer to overcome oppression?  Whether its the needy in our communities or the suffering in other countries of our world, it is up to us to think about these issues of the day and consider our role in tikkun olam (fixing the world) and making it a better place for all.    That is the message of Passover, the redemption of our people centuries ago, and the ongoing revelation that where there is injustice today we must stand up and fight against it – for our ancestors, for our fellow human beings, and for our God.