What Passover is Really About?

In a little more than 24 hours, the celebration of Passover 5776 will begin with the Pesach Sedarim on Friday and Saturday night. Before I say anything else, I want to wish each of you a meaningful and fulfilling Passover experience. I hope that you are surrounded by family and friends with whom new memories of this beautiful holiday are created.

While we seek the best recipes for charoset and the foods that will be served at the Seder, we should stop to ask what the recipe is for a meaningful Seder? Of course, picking a good Haggadah is a place to start, and there are quite a few good ones available today with commentaries and artwork that are meant to inspire discussion. But a meaningful Seder is more than enacting the prescribed rituals in the proper order (that’s what the word “Seder” means) and in the proper way. If all we do is to dip the correct number of times and split the matzah at the correct moment, if all we do is read the text of the Haggadah and sing the songs that close out the evening, then will we have celebrated a meaningful Seder?

If you’re like me, the answer is no. The Talmudic Rabbis who created this experience meant for it to be an open ended conversation about Jewish life, Jewish Peoplehood and Jewish values. The questions may be fixed but the answers are not. There is no prescribed trajectory for the dialogue shared at a Seder.   The only limit on what happens at a Passover Seder is our stamina and how long we can stay awake sitting around the table talking.

This past Shabbat my son Josh, in his Dvar Torah on Shabbat HaGadol, said that Passover is more about the future than it is about the past. It’s about how we are changed as people moving forward and what commitments we are willing to make because of what we said and heard at our Seder. So let me propose that we choose to make our Seder about something transformational. Let our Seder be about actually doing something to support refugees. Let our Seder be about actually doing something to bring an end to modern day slavery. Let our Seder be about doing something to feed the hungry. Let our Seder be about doing something to help the homeless. None of us can solve these mammoth sized problems by ourselves. But we can connect with national and international organizations that are trying to make a difference in the lives of the oppressed and the destitute. If we emerge from this year’s Seder experience energized and inspired to do something to help those in need, then Passover will have worked its magic on us. It will have been about transforming us into doers. Rather than a recounting of the slavery and oppression of the past, our Passover Seder will have pointed us toward a better future for the people of the world.

I encourage you to use these resources on the plagues of modern day slavery and refugees at your Seder to begin the conversation about how you can begin to help to make the world a better place. I’m also including a page with the prayers to be recited as we search for and remove the final remnants of leaven from our homes this evening after dark. And I hope you will join me tomorrow morning for the study session that is traditionally held right after the morning minyan on Erev Pesach.

I wish you a meaningful, fulfilling and enriching Passover celebration!

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