It is the eve of Passover and the preparations are fast coming to a conclusion. I have made the trips to Savannah to buy the kosher brisket and all the rest of the Passover foods that typically become part of the week’s dietary regimen. Tomorrow morning we will have services at Temple and then over 130 for the second night seder. No doubt it will be a grand weekend for my congregation and the rest of the Jewish world sitting down in homes to retell the story of the Passover Exodus.
The most important aspect for me in preparing for the Seder and for Passover itself is reading the Haggadah. There are many kinds of Haggadot that represent all kinds of ideologies across the spectrum of Jewish life. It is interesting how creative we have become with designing Haggadot not only from an arts perspective but from the content itself. I have seen such Haggadaot as the vegetarian Haggadah, the Holocaust survivors Haggadah or the socialist Haggadah, just to name a few. There are hundreds more that one could amass a small library of Haggadot. It is the Jewish love affair with books that might fuel this passion for Haggadah. Maybe another reason is that it is the one traditional book that allows for each generation to stamp its print on the text and reinterpret it in a way that no other holy book has allowed for over the generations.
Each day this week I sat down and studied a portion of the most traditional edition of the Haggadah with all the rabbinical commentaries. I feel refreshed and engaged as if I am visiting my old friends again who wait for me each year to open the pages (not digital) and pour through their interpretations. It is not that I don’t want to read the new age commentaries, but, I just feel drawn to traditional ideas. I want to speak of redemption and of the coming of our deliverance today from the all the metaphors that contemporary thinkers, including myself, can come up with to make the text apply to our times. At the same time I am looking to go back in time sitting besides other sages who poured over the same texts and dreamed of their own vision of how the Exodus happened and what it was like to sit down in ancient Temple times to sacrifice and then eat the Pascal offering.
I want to imagine the children and the mothers, the grandparents and the aunts and uncles sitting down to Seder in Poland as well as in Cairo. I am wondering if they had the same pressures to finish at a reasonable hour as we do today. Did they discuss the well being of the Jewish community living under their rulers with the same trepidation and hope centuries ago as we did up until the creation of the state of Israel and the destruction of the FSU?
In so many ways I cannot separate the world of the Haggadah from Jewish history or our world today. I feel grateful that I can as a Rabbi allow myself to follow a melody of God that draws me back in time and at the same time causes me to look at Jewish life today.
I believe that there is a trajectory that history follows. Jewish history was about following a pathway that began with our servitude and concluded with our redemption. That is why living in these times with the existence of Israel makes the Passover story so exciting. We are all witnesses to an ongoing story that begins a new cycle of history which I call the Redemption Cycle. We are only at the beginning of our Redemption and it will go in many different directions. That is also what preserves the mystery where God’s presence and teachings intersect with the choices we make as a people and with the actions that other nations in the world take towards the Jewish people.
This is why I love Passover because it is a moment in time to look upon the Seder table into each of the items that lay innocently before our eyes and see into them our history so as to meditate on what the future brings us.
I wish everyone a joyous and insightful Pesach.