From the Rabbi - March 2013 Print

Dear Friends:

 Religious worship began as public drama.  It was a play staged to teach or remind the populace of certain central values of a society.  Of all of our Jewish observances, the Passover seder more partakes of this dramatic element than any other.

 Consider that the seder might be understood as a production in three acts.  The first act takes place roughly 3300 years ago in Egypt.  We try to retroject ourselves into this history so that we can understand on a participatory level what the experience must have been like.  The Israelites slaves suffer grievously under the burdens imposed by their taskmasters.  As the seder unfolds, we use various means to make their agony a reality to those of us who have never undergone slavery.  We listen to the words that describe their ordeal; we eat the bread of affliction and the mortar-like haroset and the bitter herbs and dip in the salt water.  By the time we have reached the conclusion of the first act, maybe we have some empathy with what our ancestors endured.
 

The second act also takes place in ancient history, but now on the east bank of the Reed Sea.  The Israelites have passed through the walls of water, the Egyptian army has drowned, and the former slaves are now free.  How to appreciate what freedom feels like?  By acting out what free people can do.  We put our books aside and turn to a sumptuous, often-overladen table with delicacies of various sorts.  In truth, is it not the essence of freedom that we can eat as much as we want, whatever we want and for as long as we want?  A slave eats only with his master’s permission; a free person sets his own table and dines at leisure.
 

When we pick up our books to resume the seder for the third act, we bring ourselves back to the present and project ourselves into the future.  It is then that the message of the seder is most clear.  The first act has taught us that slavery is terrible; the second act reminds us that freedom is wonderful.  Now, we learn that what we treasure for ourselves cannot be only for ourselves; if we cherish freedom, it must be for everyone, and it is our task to extend that boon to as much of the world’s population as we can.  After all, the Torah repeatedly insists that we have a special obligation to the unfortunate of this world, since we were once slaves in Egypt and we, of all peoples, should understand how unpleasant slavery is.

 The drama concludes with a necessary postscript.  At the very end, we recite “LaShanah HaBa’ah Birushalayeem,” “Next year in Jerusalem,” next year in the messianic city of peace and freedom.  For we recognize that we have not completed the task our covenant with God demands of us – to bring the reality of freedom to the peoples of the earth – and Elijah, the herald of that achievement did not darken our doors.  So we challenge each other to redouble our efforts and to make Passover not just a happy family occasion, but a launching pad that the bell of liberty may ring throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.

 Phyllis and I wish every member of the congregation and all of your extended families and dear ones a very happy Pesach.
     Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi