The results of several polls indicate that 95-96% of Israelis will attend a Passover seder this year.
I find this information astounding because as someone with eyes on the ground, I confidently opine that most Israeli Jews identify as secular (40-45%). 23-33% call themselves Masorati/traditional and only 8-10% are ‘ultra-Orthodox/Haredi. In which camp do my husband and I fall? Running out of categories, I suppose that we sit uncomfortably under an umbrella called dati, along with a broad range of folks who call themselves ‘orthodox’ or ‘National Religious.’
With all due respect to Wikipedia and the Pew Research Center, I’m revolted by the aforementioned labels. Faith? Sabbath observance? Torah learning? Our respective connections to Heaven are meant to be personal, intimate and in keeping with the Torah concept of “Each person is a universe.” My circumstances, values, education, personal history, talents and intellect cannot mirror another person’s. We may share similar outlooks but, in fact, my view of the world is unique. Mine. Alone.
Only 20% of the Hebrew slaves exited Egypt. According to the Talmud, the 80% that remained were so enmeshed in Egyption culture that they chose to stay behind, forever lost to the Jewish nation. How many in total escaped bondage? Numbers vary but the general consensus says that 600,000 men between the ages of 20-60. Ignoring the question of polygamy, let’s give them one wife each, approximately 5 children per family and we’re talking three-to-four million individuals. Shocked, frightened and inordinately brave, they linked their destinies with one another,. And despite a dearth of data and paralyzed with trepidation, they placed one foot in front of the other. And walked.
Throughout the sojourn in Sinai, no one was Ultra-Orthodox and no one was Secular. No one’s membership card was better-laminated and there were no distinctions made other than ‘tribes.’ Successful nation-building relied on each of us raising our eyes toward Heaven and sensing that we were all cherished. No one checked the other’s refrigerator to determine the level of ‘kashrut’ or measured the length of his neighbor’s beard or the width of their head-covering.
The Four Sons in the Pesach Haggadah exhibit various aspects of the human experience. Some of us are more intellectually gifted than others; some of us are timid, fearful; some of us behave arrogantly and mock that which makes us uncomfortable; and others are truly limited, challenged, and need to have their hands held to bring them into the circle. I’ve heard it stated that they were not four individuals but, rather, represent four aspects of us all. Regardless of interpretations, the Four Sons are not in a contest, vying for a gold medal. There is a place for each one at the table. And therein lies the rub. For a seat at the table, one has to be present.
This past weekend, a feature article in the Jerusalem Post posited that this year’s seder would be particularly difficult because of political dissension in families during this time of protests over proposed changes to the Supreme Court. The seder might be ruined as siblings and parents would exchange heated opinions, pitting left against right at the pristine holiday table.The shallow, opportunistic write-up completely sidestepped the purpose of the Seder. Worse than click-bait, the premise was as irresponsible as it was dangerous.
The Seder is not a dinner party. The word, ‘seder’ means ‘order’. The Haggadah service is long, multi-generational and interactive. Children are present and play their parts, trying to stay awake to find the hidden matzah called ‘afikomen.’ Grandpas and grandmas bring their worn, wine-stained volumes to the table and, in between bites of matzah and charoset, they may share a vivid memory from their childhood seders. And by following the ‘order’ of the service, our respective seders historically connect us to generation-upon-generation of the original 20% who merited redemption from captivity. Politics? The Stock Market? Hollywood gossip? For shame . . . . . . .
The Seder serves as a humbling reminder that the soul of every Jew witnessed an awe-inspiring and well-documented event that occurred at the foot of a small mountain. Let us bring the same spirit and passion that are the hallmarks of our people and bask in that blessing which rained upon us 3,335 years ago. Check the ‘profane’ at the door and, together, let’s celebrate that which is ‘holy.’
Chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach from Jerusalem!
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(Reprinted with permission of San Diego Jewish Journal, April, 2023)