Dear MJCS Family;
It pains me to say this but…the last thing any Passover seder needs is a rabbi! My role is still crucial on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, or even at a bar or bat mitzvah, but on Passover? I might as well stay home (where I too will cook brisket and chicken and be left with piles of dishes long after everyone has left Egypt)!
The seder is Judaism’s essential do-it-yourself event. Everyone is allowed—no, commanded—to expound the story in his or her own unique and personal way. “In every generation, a person is obligated to view him or herself as if He were the one who went out from Egypt,” As it is said, “It was not our fathers alone who were delivered by the Holy One, but we also were delivered with them.” We are required to recount our personal story of liberation to our children, and our children’s children. Each telling of the tale reflects our family history, and our own indelible moments of liberation. No rabbi need apply.
The Judaism of our emerging twenty-first century is a Judaism of creativity and self-empowerment. We bring new melodies, new commentaries, and a renewed sense of spiritual awareness and community to the table. Smaller Shabbat and holiday gatherings of family and friends often replace services in the synagogue. We have come to demand spiritual guidance and connection from our traditional texts. Whether it is on the beach, in a “Shabbat in the home” or preparing for a bar mitzvah, we want to mold our Jewishness in a way that reflects the tastes and traditions of our times. The seder provides that opportunity for any person who can open a Haggadah.
Once we open a Haggadah, however, we see that our Jewish creativity cannot be random. Seder means “order,” and there is a definite order to the seder that was established more than 2,000 years ago. It is our task to honor that seder—that order—as the backbone of Jewish tradition while infusing the seder with the vitality of our own stories and our own lives. We re-tell, re-phrase, re-embellish, and re-member as we repeat the story of our liberation from slavery 3,000 years ago. Our contemporary move to freedom is understood to be a part of a chain of events started long ago, when God took us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm and a mighty hand. The circle and the cycle continue.
A number of years ago, the current Dalai Lama invited a group of rabbis to his home in exile. The purpose of the meeting was to ask the rabbis the secret of Jewish existence in exile for two thousand years. The answer? Make Passover! If only the Dalai Lama could teach Tibetans to gather in their homes once a year around a set ritual and tell the story of their slavery and exile, the rabbis explained, then there was hope for his people.
God thought ahead and commanded us to “tell your child on this day” even before the Israelites crossed the Red Sea to freedom. Hopefully, we will continue to tell our story as a people seeking freedom for countless generations to come. This year, we will celebrate in our homes and with our families—and more than one hundred people will celebrate the second seder Saturday night together in our synagogue. Next year, may we continue to tell the tale.
Hag Sameach, Happy Passover. And even though you don’t really need me, I wish each one of you a joyous and fulfilling Passover.