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Tweet: It's Pesach, be happy

06/04/17 15:12:41


There are probably as many variations on the seder and the Haggadah itself as there are Jewish families. Notwithstanding Tolstoy’s pessimistic observation that “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, I would suggest that even happy families are unique and idiosyncratic.

And each Jewish family – happy or unhappy – that sits down at the seder table will have its own way of celebrating the evening. Despite the wonderful and colourful variety (which is to be encouraged), there are common core ideas that are being transmitted both explicitly and implicitly. Rabbi Blech in his new Haggadah (Redemption, Then and Now) suggest the 5 most important things about Passover are: memory, optimism, faith, family and responsibility

As we sit down at our seders in a few nights time, it’s worth reflecting on the implications of this chag for our Jewish future. Pesach is the festival of liberation, but it’s also the birth of Jewish identity. Jewish identity was born on the banks of the Nile; out of the “furnace” of Egypt with its searing suffering and dehumanisation a new nation emerged. A people with a passion for freedom and a drive for social justice. These were counter-cultural trends in that they defied the accepted views of the time. Egypt taught the Jews about empathy and compassion and the central, oft-repeated lesson of the Exodus was: Remember you were once slaves in Egypt and so be caring towards the disenfranchised, the strangers and vulnerable members of society. Empathy is the very opposite of narcissism, altruism the counter of egotism.

Pesach is the essential festival of transmission, (of identity and culture) and education is the key to this transmission. At the cusp of the Exodus, as the Israelites are about to be set free, Moshe speaks to them about children, the future and the duty to pass on memory to generations yet unborn: “And when in time to come, your child asks you; saying: ‘what does this mean’ you shall say…” As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it, the Israelites were told to become a nation of educators.

In a brilliant masterstroke, Judaism introduced the Seder night and its Haggadah with its four questions, four children and stimulating topics for discussion. This is the meal where the generations meet, where memories are not only recalled but made. This is the enchanted evening when we create a fabulous Family Facebook page, a web of empathetic connections, send out a tweet to those in need: “Let all who are hungry come in and eat, all in need come and join us”.

Societal forces are incredibly powerful and we as a community need to be especially smart and innovative in countering these influences and ensuring our kids and grandchildren stay Jewish and stay connected. We also need to draw from our deep well of wisdom and centuries of collective experience. Let’s start with Pesach and its cutting-edge messages of relevance and passion; its call for freedom and justice; its insistence that the young are capable of selflessness and idealism; its recognition that building a fortress of compassion is the best answer to a tidal wave of narcissism.

May you and your family, have a happy and meaningful seder and do join us at Shule for some great services!

 חג כשר ושמח

Rabbi Ralph, Caron and our family

PS: Please follow this link for some great Pesach activities and discussion points for your seder. They’re produced by Ohr Torah Stone which is headed by our strong supporter and recent scholar in residence, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. There’s also a Pesach message from him and our scholar in residence last year, Rabbi Stav.

Tue, 14 July 2020 22 Tammuz 5780