For many people Pesach is a special festival for many reasons, actually for many VERY different reasons. As a product of Soviet propaganda I believed in my youth that religion was “opium for the people”. It was lucky for me then that all we had to do for Pesach was to eat matzah. I didn’t like it then (tasteless!). And the whole concept of slavery seemed barbaric at the time when, in Belarus, we were governed by a system very close to communism.
However, now I look forward to Pesach for that very reason of eating matzah for 7 days. This is the only period in my life when you will see me not only eating matzah but also enjoying it. The Freudian would call it “bread of childhood memories”. So Pesach is a special festival for me, but for a completely different reason from someone of my age who grew up here in the United Kingdom.
For some people Pesach is their favourite festival because it involves lots of food on the table and lots of family and friends around the table. It is the only time in our calendar when young children are encouraged to ask questions and stay up later or much later at the table than usual. As dysfunctional and chaotic as these gatherings might be, or look like, they bring a special atmosphere to our lives. But at the Seder we adults are also on a mission.
So what is our mission? It is to pass on our tradition from generation to generation – le-dor va-dor. Pesach is such a happy time for us all because generations of our families come together, or generations of our friends come together if our families are far away. We pass to each other the message of freedom, our values and our traditions, not by words but by shared experiences.
As Rabbi John Rayner said in one of his sermons: “There is something truly astonishing about our survival. By every known law of history we should have died out long ago. We have been conquered, enslaved, expelled, scattered, persecuted and subjected to every crude and subtle pressure to abandon our distinctiveness, and more than one tyrant has tried to put an end to our very existence on Earth, to make the world judenrein. Yet, we are here, still alive and still transmitting our ancient heritage from generation to generation If that is not a miracle, what is?”
We talk about the miracle of the Red Sea during the Night of Seder, but we also create a miracle every year by sharing our Seder with our family and friends. Now I love the Seder (as long as it is not too long!) and hope that my son, who complains at times about having two nights of Seder instead of one, will have his own fond memories of these Sederim that he will pass on to his children one day.
Have a joyful Exodus from slavery - and don’t forget you are on a mission too!