The essential lessons from the Passover and the Seder

“In every generation, one must see himself as if he personally had come out of Egypt...”

Lodz 1936: ‘The Family at the Seder’ from The Szyk Haggadah (photo credit: IRVIN UNGAR)
Lodz 1936: ‘The Family at the Seder’ from The Szyk Haggadah
(photo credit: IRVIN UNGAR)
In many ways, this is the crucial phrase, not only in the entire Haggada but for all of Passover as well. It tells us that we are not just reliving events of a long ago past, but, rather, are experiencing something real, something relevant to the here and now, something that can and should profoundly change us – no less than our Israelite ancestors who underwent the dramatic transformation from lowly slaves to free and upstanding people of the highest caliber.
What are the essential lessons that we should be taking from Passover and from the Seder?
• God surely performs miracles. True, these may not necessarily be outwardly obvious, public spectacles, like the Splitting of the Sea, which by tradition occurred on the seventh day of Passover. More often than not, they are concealed within natural events that seem to us to be quite routine and commonplace. But if we are truly “observant,” we perceive that Divine assistance is constantly there, helping us – both as a nation and as individuals – to accomplish things that otherwise would seem impossible.
• Life has its bitter moments. No life is totally free of disappointments, sadness or, alas, tragedy; many of us keep a chair vacant at our Seder in memory of a departed loved one, and Yizkor memorial prayers are part and parcel of the holiday liturgy. Maror, like it or not, is a necessary ingredient in the Seder of life, and we must learn to accept that. However, it need not overshadow or negate the overwhelmingly good things with which we are abundantly blessed. That’s why we eat just one helping of the maror, yet drink four full cups of wine.
• The “Four Children” we read about are in all of us. Sometimes we are motivated and enthusiastically “turned on” to Judaism, like the wise child; at other times we are rebellious, clueless or just plain apathetic. We have to work on ourselves every day in every way, but the bottom line is: We are all blessed children of the Almighty, come what may. That’s why the very last step in the Seder process is “Nirtza – acceptance.”
• We are one with our past. Judaism is not a solo act; at the Seder we connect across the generations with all of our ancestors – all the way back to Moses! – who have conducted or participated in Seders past. The ancient tradition that Elijah the Prophet visits every Seder to drink from his cup (talk about post-Seder hangovers!) reminds us that we are a continuing link in the eternal chain of the Jewish nation. Knowing that we do not need to go it alone gives us a certain strength and confidence that we will guarantee our survival by keeping the chain going.
• God cannot and will not do all the work. Just as the slaves in Egypt had to cry out in unison to God before He came to our rescue, and Nahshon ben Aminadav had to bravely jump into the sea before it would divide, so, we, too, must take an active role in redemption, utilizing all our strengths and capabilities to partner with God so that together we can reach new heights. In short: Don’t wait – create!
• The message of Passover’s iconic food, matzah, is: Be proud, yet humble. Moses had to work overtime to convince the people that they were meant for greater things, that slavery was not our ultimate destiny. He had to raise our spirits back to that of a divinely chosen people by banishing the “11th plague”: defeatism and a lack of national self-confidence. At the same time, we have to maintain our sense of modesty and humility, acknowledging that, great as we are and great as we can be, God is even greater.
• Order, please! The Seder service begins with the reading of the 14 steps encompassing the various rituals of the night, a night that we refer to as “Seder night.” Although we often cannot see it, there is an order, a seder, to history, just as chaos does not reign supreme in the universe. God has His plan, and we are a major part of it; each and every day, we are coming closer to that elusive but inevitable day of glorious joy and unification: L’shana haba’a b’Yerushalayim!


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