From Division to Dialogue: Lessons from Passover
We shall gather “all who are in need come and join us for the Pesaḥ.”
In an era marked by division and uncertainty within the Jewish community, Passover assumes a pivotal role in uniting people across the diaspora and Israel. It is an invitation for us to set aside our differences and rejoice in our collective history, customs, and ideals.
Passover embodies the birth of the Jewish nation, commemorating their emancipation from Egyptian servitude and their path towards nationhood. It is a powerful reminder that, despite our disparities, we are all members of the same community with a shared past and future.
The Midrash cautions us that only one-fifth of the Jewish people followed Moses out of Egypt, while the remainder were left behind due to their unwillingness to abandon their lives of slavery (Mekhiltha deRibbi Shimʿon Bar Yoḥai 13:17). This narrative alerts us to the danger of being left behind in our own divisions and conflicts if we fail to learn from our ancestors.
left behind in our own divisions
Throughout our history, internal discord has plagued the Jewish people. From the rivalry between the tribes of Judah and Israel to the schisms between the Pharisees and the Sadducees during the Second Temple period, we have often struggled with finding common ground. While there may be more instances to consider, I acknowledge that some Jewish readers may already be dissatisfied with the exclusion of any given example. This reinforces my argument that we must acknowledge and address the extensive history of this behavior.
The Mishna promotes mahloqeth leShem shamayim (argumentation for the sake of heaven) [Pirqé Aḇoth (Ethics of our Father) 5:17] and encourages respectful debates amongst Jews, regardless of divergent opinions. By engaging in patient and respectful dialogue, we can deepen our understanding of differing perspectives, strengthen our connections, and work towards a more just and compassionate world.
Returning to our roots and traditions serves as a powerful unifying force. Passover is an opportunity to reconnect with the values and traditions that have nourished us for thousands of years. The Passover meal, or Haggadah, is a time when family and friends come together to recount the journey of the Jewish people from bondage to liberty.
The Haggadah instructs us that “bekhol dor va’dor, ḥayyaḇ aḏam leharʾoth eth ʿaṣmo keʾillu hu yaṣa miMiṣrayim,” (in every generation, a person must show themselves as though they personally had gone out of Egypt.) The phrase “leharʾoth eth ʿaṣmo” (to show themselves) is commonly found, while there are alternative manuscripts that use the phrase “lirʾoth eth ʿaṣmo” (to see themselves). This is more than just seeing; it is a call to reenact the Exodus, allowing Jews to profoundly experience the story and connect with their ancestors. Jews worldwide participate in unique customs that emphasize the importance of retelling the Exodus story.
In the Levant, participants engage in dialogue in Hebrew and Arabic, asking “min weyn jayé?” (Where are you coming from?) and “weyn raykh/a?” (Where are you going?) while holding the afikomen over their shoulder, mimicking a border crossing. Persian Jews humorously hit each other with scallions to imitate the whippings of the Egyptians, while Moroccans hold the Plate and sing “bibhilou yaṣanou miMiṣraim” (in a rush we left Egypt). Tunisians and Algerians sing the Aramaic verse “etmol hayinu ʿaḇadim” (yesterday we were slaves) while holding the Plate.
These traditions, along with symbolic actions such as dipping greens, eating maṣṣa, consuming ḥarroseth and bitter herbs, reclining while drinking, and savoring a korekh (vegetarian maṣṣa wrap), allow us to deeply connect with the Exodus story. Maṣṣa signifies the haste with which the Jewish people left Egypt, while bitter herbs dipped in salt water and ḥarroseth evoke memories of hardships and tears during slavery. Reclining symbolizes freedom, and the korekh wrap recalls the traditional qorban Pesaḥ (Passover sacrifice Lamb). Through these practices, we experience the Exodus firsthand and strengthen our ties to our shared heritage.
in every generation, a person must show themselves as though they personally had gone out of Egypt
As we gather for Passover, let us reflect on the importance of retelling and reenacting the Exodus story, which serves as a reminder of our shared history and traditions. This holiday season, we must work towards healing our community after 2000 years of exile and dispersion by uniting as one people, celebrating our common heritage and values, and engaging in constructive conversations and discussions. By embracing our diversity and working together in harmony, we can establish a resilient and thriving Jewish community that endures for generations to come.
We must maintain unity by dining together and reevaluating outdated food customs that hinder our national cohesion to eat together. Embracing our shared heritage during Passover is vital, as is setting aside practices that no longer benefit our collective well-being. This creates an environment for all Jews to unite and strengthen our national bond. The “ha laḥma ʿanya” passage invites all to join in the Pesaḥ celebration, emphasizing the need for unity in all aspects of our lives, including shared meals. By doing so, we contribute to nation-building and help repair the bridges connecting our diverse community.
Let Passover remind us that it is not only a celebration of the Jewish people becoming a nation but also an affirmation of our shared destiny as one community. As we return to our traditions and values and engage in respectful dialogue and debate, we can work towards repairing our community and building a stronger and more united Jewish people. This Passover, let us come together to reflect on our nationhood and work collectively to mend our community after 2000 years of exile.