From the Rabbi - April 2017 Print

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!” In many ways this could be the moto of the Jewish approach to text and prayer.  In a world in which we tend to want the new and the latest innovation, Judaism likes to go back to the classics and remind us of eternal truths.  Even in the Reform and Conservative movements, in which we like to be creative and dynamic in our ritual practice and philosophy of Judaism, we are always rooted in the texts and prayers that have been the cornerstones of our people’s lives for centuries, if not millennia.  Perhaps this is why we return again and again to the same stories in the Torah and recite the same prayers at our regular prayer services – we understand that we may not succeed in grasping all that that we can learn and experience of those texts in one go, or even in one lifetime.  Every time we delve back into the study of our texts we are continually trying again and again to find greater depth and meaning in these great writings that are our inheritance. 

And one of the greatest texts to which we return again and again every year is the Haggadah of Passover, retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  Surely, we may think we know this story.  We have heard it many times.  What could we possibly learn from it now after so many repeated readings?  The answer of course is that no matter how many times we read it there will always be more to learn.  Partly this is because the text is rich and deep and varied, full of details we may not see until we have read it many times.  And partly it is because as we grow older and our lives change and we experience and read things differently.  As my daughter gets older I am introducing her to many of the books, movies, and TV shows  I loved as a child, and experiencing them again.  As I do so I see new messages and nuances that I could never have understood as a child but do now because of the experiences I have had in my life.  Every year we return to the Haggadah text and every year we are different and so our experience of the seder is different. 

And, of course, we return again and again to the same text of the Haggadah and the same story of the Exodus because some truths need to be told and retold until we truly get them right!  Human nature is such that  it is often easy to forget these lessons when we do not continually return to them to refresh our connection with our tradition.  We need to hear the stories again and again to truly understand them and to truly ingrain them as part of our lives.  We need to be reminded every year that we are part of a great tradition that has helped us survive and thrive as Jews for thousands of years.  And we must each year remind ourselves that this great tradition began in slavery and oppression, so that we never become arrogant and entitled.  It reminds us to never forget that our tradition is great because it reminds  us year after to year to remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt, to be downtrodden and thus to conduct our lives with compassion and in pursuit of justice for all.  

           Rabbi Ilan Emanuel