Passover Today

by Rabbi David Orlofsky
Why even the most assimlated Jews still keep Passover Seder
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For most Jewish families the highlight of Passover is the Seder. For that matter for most Jews the only part of Passover is the Seder. It seems that even as Jews have grown estranged form their religion, the Passover Seder beckons to them to return home. What is there about this special night that is different from all other nights (now where have I heard that before?).

It could be the opportunity to get together with family. But after studying the sociological interactions of the average Jewish family I know it can't be that. Uncle Harry has been feuding with Cousin Irving for twenty five years, neither one knows why. It seems it had something to do with High Holiday tickets back in the fifties. Grandma is going to force-feed everyone who isn't legally obese and the teenage faces that make you wonder how we survived for three thousand years. No, it's not family.

I doubt it's the food. If people really liked matza that much, they'd eat it during the year. Sometimes you can see someone happily munching away for a few minutes before they realize they're eating the cardboard box. Then there's the traditional chunk of horseradish root dipped in charoset. Those in the know scoop off and eat the charoset, but when an unsuspecting guest comes and actually takes a bite out of the horseradish itself and chokes and turns purple -- that's fun. But no, I guess it's not the food.

I guess there is a sense of history -- of connecting to something that stretches way beyond the living memory of anyone within living memory. An understanding that we Jews had an experience over 3300 years ago in Egypt that has stayed with us down to our own days. Yet it's curious that Jews who are jettisoning so much of Jewish tradition still cling to some form of a Passover Seder. Why has this ceremony remained more than everything else?

The Sages of the Talmud teach us that when Moshe came to take the Jews out of Egypt, they had by then sunk to the lowest possible level of spirituality. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they weren't nice people. They maintained their original Hebrew names, they still spoke ancient Hebrew (known as Yiddish) and wouldn't speak poorly about people. They also remained loyal to their spouses. In many ways they would seem to have been doing a lot better than many people today.

But they were only a few generations away from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had contact with prophecy within their grandparents' lifetime. The power of spirituality, to sense G-d, was profound. That made their disconnectedness much more powerful. So when we are told that they were swept into the idolatrous cults of ancient Egypt, it meant that they would not be able to survive as Jews for much longer. The Bible tells us that they left in haste, which the Sages explain means that much longer and they would not have been saved. You can only save something that still exists -- once it's all gone, salvation becomes a moot point.

We read in the Passover Haggada, the booklet that tells us the story of the Exodus, that Ezekiel says "By your blood you shall live." Ezekiel was referring to the blood of the Passover sacrifice and the blood of circumcision. It was almost as though G-d needed to give them a reason, some kind of spiritual identity, in order to assert their Jewishness and allow them to be redeemed. Perhaps the symbols involved blood in order to "get the blood flowing" again, in order to allow them to come back to life as Jews.

That experience of thousands of years ago is lodged in our collective subconscious. We remember how close we were to being lost as a people and what it took to bring us back to life. It's interesting that studies show that the two rituals that Jews as a whole observe the most are circumcision and the Passover Seder. That little voice inside of us saying "I want to connect to my people."

So despite the food, the family dynamics, the hours of preparation -- millions of Jews will join together this Passover evening to relive the Passover Seder for the three thousand three hundred and twelfth time. And in the search for meaning there will be those who will feel their Jewish blood start to flow and they will look for a sense of personal redemption to carry them further up the ladder of spiritual growth.

Happy Passover!

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