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How should we change the seder this year?

Passover at times of war

As we gather around the Passover Seder this year, amidst the backdrop of war in Israel, the heart-wrenching reality of hostages still in captivity, and the rise of antisemitism around the world, I’ve been asked by so many people: How can we alter our Seder to reflect these dire circumstances? 

My answer: you don’t need to change a thing, since the Passover Haggadah, written so long ago, speaks directly to our current reality and remains as relevant today as ever. Its sacred texts and rituals, passed down through generations, carry an important message of hope and resilience.

The Seder is more than a recounting of the Exodus from Egypt; it is a profound dialogue between the past and the present, a guide for navigating through darkness towards the light. Within its structure—meticulously ordered to facilitate remembrance and reflection—lies the essence of our enduring spirit. 

This year, as we recite the ancient words, “In every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands,” we are reminded of the cyclical nature of our struggles. Yet, it is precisely this acknowledgement that strengthens our resolve and deepens our faith.

The story of Passover is a testament to the belief that even in the midst of despair, there is a plan, a reason for hope. It teaches you that liberation from suffering is not only a possibility but a promise. When you say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” you do not merely envision a physical location but yearn for a rebuilt Jerusalem, a symbol of peace and divine redemption. This aspiration encapsulates the collective yearning for a world transformed, where the sorrows of today give way to the joys of a brighter tomorrow.

This perspective is mirrored in the teaching of Rabban Gamliel, who explains the main parts of the Seder are Pesach (The Pascal offering), matzah, and marror (the bitter herb). Pesach reminds us of the offering that was brought on the verge of our birth as a People while still in Egypt. The matzah reminds us that we left in such haste and didn’t have time for the dough to properly rise. The bitter herb reminds us of the bitterness of slavery.

Isn’t this list out of order? Since we first experienced the bitterness, shouldn’t that be mentioned first?

This sequence is deliberate. The Hebrew word for pain (tzar) shares the root of the word narrow (also tzar) because when you are in pain, you feel stuck, constricted. You cannot process the pain while you’re still immersed in it. You can’t see the label when you are inside the jar. Only once you’ve made it to safety and freedom can you understand how the challenges you’ve faced have made you who you are.

While I was studying and teaching at Aish in the Old City of Jerusalem, there was a woman who was working on a huge painting. For weeks, every morning she would come set up a massive canvas by the steps overlooking the Western Wall. She would paint all day and then walk all the way up the stairs to take a look, and then come back down, over and over again. While painting, she was too close to properly see what she was doing. She only saw blurred colors. She needed to walk up the stairs to gain perspective. 

Unfortunately, sometimes in life, there just aren’t enough steps to walk back and see the whole picture.

Like the painter in the Old City of Jerusalem, you are also invited to look beyond your immediate pain. While ensnared in the narrow straits of suffering, it might seem impossible to envision a brighter future. Yet, Passover implores you to lift your gaze, to remember that you are part of a larger, unfolding story. You just don’t have enough steps yet to walk back to see the full picture.

The Haggadah addresses the Jewish People’s current pain with the awareness that while we are still in it we cannot make full sense of our pain. Now is the time to feel the pain and bitterness, and to hold onto the hope and conviction that things will get better. God has a plan.

This Seder is a vital exercise in hope. The story of the Jewish People, fraught with persecution and hardship, is also brimming with resilience and renewal.

May you find strength in the knowledge that from the depths of our collective sorrow, you can—and will—emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper commitment to the values that have sustained the Jewish People through the ages. Next year in Jerusalem. 

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Lehrfield lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, Sarah, and their five energetic children. He serves as the Director of the Jewish Outreach Initiative (JOI), a transformative program reshaping the Jewish landscape in Denver. JOI is dedicated to providing authentic Jewish experiences and learning opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds in a meaningful and engaging way. Additionally, Rabbi Lehrfield is the Co-director of SITE (the School of Integrative Torah Education), a Hebrew school alternative where Judaism is brought to life in a fun, camp-like atmosphere. He hosts the "Zero Percent” and "Dear Rabbi”podcasts and cohosts the "reConnect" podcast, further broadening his influence and connection with a global audience. Known for his warmth and genuine love for every Jew, Rabbi Lehrfield's approachable demeanor enables him to connect with people across all age groups and backgrounds. As a dynamic and engaging educator, he employs analogies and humor to make complex, profound ideas accessible and relatable to all, from novices to experts. Rabbi Lehrfield earned his M.Ed from Loyola University in Chicago and received two rabbinic ordinations; one from Yeshivas Beis Yisroel in Jerusalem, and another from Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, the Chief Justice of the Jerusalem High Court. Beyond his professional pursuits, Rabbi Lehrfield is passionate about photography, baking, rock climbing, and snowboarding. These diverse interests allow him to engage with a broad spectrum of individuals and communities, furthering his mission to make Judaism relevant and meaningful for all Jews. You can follow Rabbi Lehrfield's activities and insights at @JOIdenver on Instagram and Facebook.
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