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Pesach and our Jewish identity: Points for consideration during the seder

On the suffering of our enemies, the role of food, the question of where we'd be without this story and more
Illustrative: An Israeli family seen during the Passover seder meal on the first night of the eight-day long Jewish holiday, in Tzur Hadassah, on April 22, 2016. (Nati Shohat/ Flash 90)
Illustrative: An Israeli family seen during the Passover seder meal on the first night of the eight-day long Jewish holiday, in Tzur Hadassah, on April 22, 2016. (Nati Shohat/ Flash 90)

The holiday of Pesach is unique in Jewish tradition in that we are provided with a very specific setting and halachic tradition to retell the epic story that has shaped our existence as a Jewish people and national identity.

The seder therefore provides us with an opportunity each year to delve deep into questions of our peoplehood, our religion and our relationship with history.

With the hope that this year’s seder will serve as an inspirational experience to become even more connected to our identity as Jews, below you will find several points for consideration and discussion which emerge from the Haggadah and from the story of the Exodus.

1. Amidst recalling the story of the Exodus, let us take a moment and try to appreciate the relevance of those events through a contemporary perspective. Specifically, how might our interpretation of modern day events and those of recent history be different if we didn’t have the ancient story of leaving Egypt? Would our interpretation of modern times be different? How so?

2. For many (if not most…), a highlight of the seder is the meal, where traditional holiday foods, many of which are attached to family customs, are enjoyed. Think, how the seder might be different if there was no food involved, or even if the story were told while fasting, as is the case in many other Jewish rites of passage. Beyond the practical reasons that we’re hungry this late at night, what is the importance of food and eating to the story itself?

3. The plagues are a central part of the Exodus narrative. How do you react to the fact that the hardship of our enemies is at the heart of our redemption? What does this say about our historic experience as Jews? Or humanity in general?

4. The name of Moshe isn’t mentioned even once in the Haggadah despite the biblical narrative placing him at the center of the events surrounding the Exodus. Is there a specific significance to this noticeable omission? What might it be?

5. All of us in our lives have experienced some sort of exodus — a salvation from a personal, practical or emotional hardship. To better appreciate what the national Exodus meant, take a moment to focus — or even discuss — how you overcame those challenges and reached that salvation. How might that experience help you better understand the national Exodus of ancient times?

6. One of the versions of the Haggadah includes the phrase, “From the beginning our fathers were idol worshipers.” What do you think is the significance of that understanding? Is that fact important for us today? Why?

7. As we prepare to conclude retelling the story of our Exodus from Egypt, what do you think this story serves to tell us specifically about the relationship between God and humanity? And what about between God and the Jewish people?

Wishing you and all the people of Israel a happy, healthy and meaningful Pesach.

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is the Director of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization.

About the Author
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is the Director of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization.
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