Clifford Rieders

The Eternal Meaning of Passover

Monday evening 14 Nissan, April 22nd on the Gregorian Calendar Passover begins.  The holiday will last for 8 days, ending at sundown on 22 Nissan, April 30th.

The eternal meaning of the holy period is highlighted by the attempt of Iran and its terrorist proxies to destroy the Jewish presence which has existed in the Middle East for at least 3,500 years.

The Arabs are from Arabia, recent arrivals in the land of Israel, but the Israelites have a history in the region dating back to the beginning of written history.

Central to the Passover theme is the Seder. Key to the Seder is the Passover Haggadah.

The Haggadah is without question the most widely read book in Judaism. There are dozens of different versions of the Seder, although the overall Order of the Seder is the same.

There are transgender lesbian Haggadahs, Haggadahs for the religious, the spiritual, and a variety of family Haggadahs. Much of what we know about the Jewish family comes to us through the home observance of the Seder and the use of the Haggadah.

The Seder is one of the remarkable observances of the Jewish people that is typically performed at home, by family, and without clergy. These days, thanks to how little some people know about the religion, Seders are performed at synagogues, social halls, and other venues. However, the Seder is still performed in Jewish homes throughout the world, with each family having its own particular traditions.

The Jews have held their Seder and celebrated the holiday in captivity, during the German genocide in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, during pogroms throughout Europe, and in the dark days of the Spanish Inquisition.  Notwithstanding the multi-millennia war against the Jews, the Passover celebration and the family use of the Haggadah continues unabated. It is one of the truly remarkable achievements of any people.

The Jewish people continue to observe Passover in record numbers, eat their unleavened bread, and sing the songs with family that are pertinent to the holiday.

One of my favorite Haggadahs is one written by Elie Weisel, the well-known writer and Holocaust survivor. All Seders begin with the admonition: “This is the bread of affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all those who are hungry come and eat with us….”

The experience of the Seder is about the peoplehood of Israel; the land, the spirit, the religion, and all the intangibles of what it means to be a Jew.

The medieval sages urged that the Seder be conducted in the language of the participants, since understanding the text is a vital component of the service. As has been pointed out by many commentators, the Seder is a story. It belongs to everyone, regardless of where they are or how they live. At every Seder the illustrious visitor Elijah attends.

Many know the Seder through the four cups of wine, and virtually everyone I know who ever participated in a Seder, remembers the first time they fell asleep after the fourth cup.

The central theme of the family celebration of the Seder is Maggid, the telling of the story. We ask how this night is different from all other nights. Why do we eat unleavened bread? Why do we eat herbs? Why do we eat while reclining?

These are the questions asked by children. Children are encouraged to understand the holiday and the nature of what they see and hear. What will they taste? What will they touch? Why exile? Why suffering? Why evil?

The Seder has been for all of us a learning tool. The Seder is primarily dedicated to children, although conducted by adults who offer their own questions and commentaries. On Passover night, every Jew is a rabbi, a sage, and a scholar. Every Jew is a child and every child is in the process of growth.

Judaism is a continuous adventure in the spiritual actualization of human existence. One of the best ongoing examples of that struggle is to understand, create, and exist through a life of quality. This is encouraged by the family Seder.

There were times, during the Roman period, when the Seder was utilized as an opportunity to discuss political problems. That does not sound much different from today. When the Jews were hiding from the Romans, they conducted their Seders, and discussed strategies for survival. During the Holocaust, while the Jews were being incinerated in the death camps of Poland and Germany, there were those who tried to have some semblance of a Seder.

In reading the story of the Jewish people, which is part of the Seder, we learn about the promise of the Holy Land made by God to the Jewish people. Perhaps just as important, we learn why the Egyptians enslaved the Jewish people. The Jews came to Egypt as a result of Joseph saving the Egyptians from famine. The excuse of the Pharaoh for the enslavement was that perhaps Egypt would be invaded and the alien shepherds who had been living among them, would join with the enemies of the state. This is probably not the first, but it is certainly one of the best known examples of antisemitism. It is still used by some as an excuse to hate and kill Jews.  Passover celebrates the liberation from slavery, the exodus from bondage to liberation.

There is an ancient passage which we recite at the Seder. We observe that in every generation, there arose those who would attempt to destroy us. How prescient that statement is today.

The women of Israel come in for special appreciation. It was the older sister of Moses, who predicted his birth, saved Moses from death, and whose well of fresh water followed the Jewish people through their travels in the desert. It is said that Miriam was a greater prophet than Moses. The women of Israel refused the orders of the Pharaoh to kill the baby boy. The Talmud notes that it was for the virtue of the women that the Jews were saved at the Red Sea. When the men wanted to appoint a leader to take them back to Egypt, during the difficult trek in the desert, it was the women who demanded the right of inheritance in the Holy Land. God was so impressed with the demands of the women, that the women were offered a double portion in the Holy Land.

As we face today’s challenges in the world, the eternal message of Passover is that a commitment to Jewish values, and respect for one another ultimately will triumph even over the greatest bitterness, symbolized by the bitter herbs which we eat at the Seder.

Passover became a symbol of America. Benjamin Franklin suggested that the seal of the United States be the Children of Israel passing through the red sea. The African slave population in America came to revere the exodus from Egypt as a symbol of their struggle.

The Passover Seder is the quintessential statement of Jewish nationhood, unity, hope, and healing.

Let everyone have a peaceful, healthy, happy, and meaningful Pesach.

About the Author
Cliff Rieders is a Board Certified Trial Advocate in Williamsport, is Past President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a past member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.
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