In just a few short days, the Jewish community will gather to celebrate our people’s Exodus from Egypt. We eat delicious food, read the Haggadah, and share a meal with family and friends. However, what often starts out as pleasant conversation based on the text of the Haggadah has the capacity of turning into lively conversation about current events. As a Passover Service Announcement, I’d like to remind you that you may encounter people at the seder table who do not share your identical, undeniably correct, passionately-felt, political, religious, or cultural views. In an effort to promote shalom bayit, peace in the home, and in order to promote civil discourse throughout the evening, please remember that your “older and out-of-touch” uncle and your “naive and sheltered millennial” niece are not alone in thinking that:
Ted Cruz can’t run for president.
Ted Cruz can run for president.
The 1995-1996 Bulls are the greatest NBA team of all time.
The 2015-2016 Warriors are the greatest NBA team of all time.
Kitniyot are forbidden to Ashkenazi Jewry.
Kitniyot are permitted to Ashkenazi Jewry.
The ability to defend one’s beliefs while simultaneously acknowledging merit in another’s contrasting view, in many ways, is at the heart of Jewish learning. A nuanced view of complicated issues requires a deep sense of humility, a desire to learn, and I think, the paradigm of viewing those who disagree with you as the means of honing one’s position and arriving at a more complete answer. These hallmarks of Jewish learning are highlighted in two aspects during Passover.
First, the need to be in conversation with others in order to uncover higher realms of knowledge is embedded in the actual haggadah. During the Maggid section we read:
It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon were reclining at a seder in B’nei Berak. They were discussing the exodus from Egypt all that night, until their students came and told them: “Our Masters! The time has come for reciting the morning Shema!”
Although each rabbi was learned and respected as a teacher, they nonetheless needed each other to discuss with and then deepen their understanding of the text. In fact, later on when discussing the plagues, each rabbi builds off the work of his predecessor, embellishing the text in memorable ways.
Secondly, rather than presenting the Egyptians in a one-dimensional, vilified manner, the rabbis temper the mood of the entire holiday in recognition that our independence came through Egyptian suffering: Firstborns fast in memory of the firstborn Egyptians who died during the 10th plague; wine is removed from our wine glasses during the recitation of the 10 plagues; and half-Hallel, rather than full-Hallel is recited during Hol Hamoed and the end days of Passover. These observances reduce our joy and remind us that God chastised the angels in heaven for celebrating the fall of the Egyptians by stating, “How can you sing as the works of my hand are drowning in the sea?” If those who enslaved our people for hundreds of years are remembered with some merit, then certainly those sitting across the table from us should merit some consideration?
As we sit down to the seder table, may we have the capacity to engage in lively and constructive debate during our meals. Remember, the more one discusses and engages in conversation, harei zeh meshubah, the more praiseworthy they are…so long as it is done with openness, respect, and a sense of humility.