Reuben Livingstone
Reuben Livingstone

Honouring our community’s veterans this seder night

Handout photo dated 15/11/20 issued by AJEX (Association of Jewish ex-Service Men & Women) showing a small socially distanced ceremony at the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London, to honour fallen Servicemen and women and mark the 86th annual AJEX parade. via Jewish News
Handout photo dated 15/11/20 issued by AJEX (Association of Jewish ex-Service Men & Women) showing a small socially distanced ceremony at the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London, to honour fallen Servicemen and women and mark the 86th annual AJEX parade. via Jewish News

Why is the night of Pesach is specifically called Seder night? It alludes to the traditional Jewish belief that everything that happens to us is neither coincidence nor happenstance. All that we experience in life, in truth, has inherent order or ‘seder’, even when that may not seem readily apparent to us – or feels like chaos at the time. But our lives are overseen by a higher destiny – something that we recognise and seek further to discover on Seder night.

The manner of that journey is by telling the story and reflecting on the miraculous kindness the Jewish people experienced in Egypt.

That process is not merely intellectual – but expressed through positive actions of memory and appreciation – like those of inviting the less fortunate to our homes and tables.

The first Viznitzer Rebbe was asked why, when burning the chametz, many have the custom also to burn the candle used for searching for it. He replied: ‘This candle was used for one purpose only – to search for and destroy leaven. A candle whose sole purpose is for seeking out the negative must be burned’. Instead, Pesach is about embracing and appreciating the positive blessing in our lives and ‘paying this forward’ through kindness to others.

Although not widely known in the Jewish community, there are still old soldiers, sailors and airmen/women who have sacrificed for our freedom here in the UK.

We in AJEX (The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women) ensure that their welfare and wellbeing is supported and never overlooked.

Pesach, in particular, is truly a moment to look beyond ourselves and say thank you to them…through kindness and appreciation.

For this reason, the Seder begins with an invitation to those who are hungry or needy to join us in our homes.

This is a powerful act of care and tzedaka and focusses us initially not on the exodus or ourselves – but on the needs of others.  We begin the Seder this way out of recognition that when we were freed from slavery our true spiritual essence could emerge and be focused upon. We engage in the act meant to most emblematic for Jews – thinking of others and feeding the hungry.

For this reason, we open our Seder by calling out ‘kol dichfin’: ‘all who are hungry come and join us’.

Followed by a second call, ‘kol ditzrich’:, ‘all who are in need’ come and be with us.

The second invitation is not addressed to those in physical need of food; we have already reached out to them with the first. Rather, here we are inviting those who are isolated, lonely and in need of companionship and friendship.

We Jews, who were downtrodden in Egypt and have suffered at the hands of countless oppressors over millennia, unfortunately know all too well the feeling of being forsaken and abandoned.

On the night of the Seder we open our doors and hearts widely with warmth and love embracing all those in spiritual or physical need.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

  • Festival grants are made to individuals and couples who AJEX support to assist them in meeting extra expenses that will be incurred in celebrating Pesach. If you would like to donate, visit: https://www.ajex.org.uk/donate-1 or call the AJEX Head Office 02082022323

About the Author
Rabbi Reuben Livingstone LLM CF, is senior Jewish chaplain to HM Armed Forces and AJEX.
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