April 13, 2014
Tomorrow night we will mark a holiday Jews have been celebrating for some 3,500 years. That is, the miraculous exodus from Egypt, that is, the birth of the Jewish people, as a nation. I guess that means we’ve been around for a long time.
On the eve of Pesach – that is, Passover, we conduct a Seder, which literally means ‘order.’ During this festive rite we retell the story of our beginnings, from the days of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the trials and tribulations of Jacob, and descent to Egypt. From there we repeat the sufferings of the ancient Israelites at the hands of the slave masters, the torturous Egyptians, and finally, the miraculous end, including the ‘ten plagues’ brought on the Egyptians, culminating with the death of all the first-born males, excepting only first-born Jews. And then, the sudden, massive, glorious, exodus from that cursed land.
The festivities include the actual recitation of the events, as well as drinking four cups of wine, eating Matzah, the unleavened bread, and also ‘bitter herbs.’ Each element of the ‘seder’ ceremony is marked and the details are scrupulously followed by Jews around the world, year after year.
The intricacies of the holiday, and the above-described ceremony have been written about in great length. Thousands of books have been authored, each touching upon a different aspect, or approaching an idea from a ‘different angle.’
I would like, for a moment, to add my own small contribution. Not that what I write hasn’t been written before; I’m sure it has been, multiple times. But of course, I have my own ‘take on things.’
It’s fairly clear why the Exodus story is told again and again, year after year. This event is the very foundation of Jewish faith. The Ten Commandments, as given to us by G-d at Sinai, do not speak of the G-d who created heavens and earth. Rather, they begin with the G-d who took the Jews out of Egypt. Many reasons are given for this, but one of them is very simply because, who was around to witness the creation of heaven and earth? On the other hand, millions witnessed the miracles and exodus from Egypt.
That has been passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, grandparents to grandchildren, Rabbis to students, from then on, generation upon generation. We read of the events in the Torah, and keep them alive, in our minds, in our hearts and in all facets of our lives. The best way to ensure that such a majestic, and central occasion will not ever be forgotten is if it is repeated. Just as people rarely forget the date of their birthday, so too, a people does not fail to remember its origins. And just as important, we mustn’t fail to give thanks to He who gave us our life.
There is no better way to express gratitude than to repeat the event, again and again, giving credit where credit is due.
Another question asked concerns the evening ritual – the ‘seder.’ Why is there such a strict ‘seder,’ that is ‘order’ to everything that’s done. Why can’t the story be told, with each person or family expressing it as they like?
The answer to this question too, is simple.
A student once brought a beautiful painting to his art teacher. In reply to the teacher’s complements, the student claimed, “I didn’t really paint this. My paint spilled on the paper, and this was the result.” The teacher, of course, refused to accept this explanation, saying, “such a work of art cannot be the result of ‘chance’ spilt paint.”
Such is the world in which we live. Our lives, our private lives, or our national existence, cannot be ‘paint spilt on a piece of paper.’ Just as the artist must plan each stroke of the brush, each shade of color, so too, our being is a work of art. A work of Divine art. As the expression says, ‘there is a method to the madness.’
Our birth, with the exodus from Egypt, thousands of years ago, was methodical, beginning hundreds of years before. There was a guiding hand, every step of the way, sometimes visible, other times seemingly invisible. But each and every step was planned out, just as the artist charts his masterpiece, line by line.
This is a Divine ‘seder,’ a Divine order. This is why, on the eve of our national birth, when we literally relive that era, as we repeat the words of our Sages, that we must feel as if we were today actually liberated from Egypt, the ‘order’ is so central. All that happened was carefully thought out, planned and executed. And this is how we experience again the event, just as it was then.
Approaching these sacred days of Passover, my mood is, perhaps, overly reflective. Looking back at our birth as a nation, I also reflect upon my own personal narrative.
Presently I am marking several special life events. Exactly twenty years ago I began working with the Hebron Jewish community. In a few months it will be exactly forty years since I first came to Israel. And last week I celebrated my sixtieth birthday. Twenty, forty, sixty. And of course, I cannot leave out a number in the middle, that being the thirty-fifth anniversary of my marriage to my wonderful wife Ora.
Looking back to where I started, it really doesn’t seem possible. From New Jersey to Hebron might be the kind of material science fiction is made of. That is, until we reach Pesach – Passover, when we see that my story is nothing more than the story of the Jewish people, throughout history. After all, were did Abraham start?
My story is that of thousands, and hundreds of thousands, and millions of Jews, who have made their way back home. We each have our own individual exodus stories, our liberation from Galut – the Diaspora, and our return home. Each story contains miracles, and perhaps, even plagues. But there is always a guiding hand, and in the end, (which is actually the beginning) we make it back home.
This is what will be roaming my thoughts tomorrow night, sitting with my family – with my children and grandchildren, reflecting on my own wondrous story, while reciting the age-old words of our freedom from bondage in Egypt, of our birth as a people, an eternal people, Am Yisrael.
Happy Passover – Chag Sameach, from Hebron.