I remember our first Pesach in Israel. All six of us walking in moonlight to our friends in Raanana for the Seder meal. It was comfortably warm and we walked slowly. Everything was so new and beautiful, but the Seder felt extremely long, finishing after midnight. The Seder is always 4-6 hour long. Every year, I am still amazed that at Pesach night, we have a full moon. God in his kindness let the first Pesach and every Pesach since, happen in the middle of the month, so the moon is lighting up the way. All the three big holidays, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot are in the middle of the Jewish month, when the Jews were supposed to travel up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The moon was always lighting up the way plus the weather in Nissan is mild and pleasant.
Also, this year on Nissan 15 we are walking in full moon to a Seder meal, like every Jewish family in the world. The little ones have prepared their questions and songs in kindergarten and school. They know them all off by heart. Grown ups are exhausted after the Pesach cleaning. No breadcrumbs left in the houses. Excitement is in the air. This night is so special.
The children ask: Why is this night different from all other nights? At this meal the children are the most important, not the guests. Questioning is always important in Judaism. Without critical analysis, the wisdom and belief is incomplete. The questioning gives us reason, to inspire curiosity and to tell the story of Exodus, from one generation to the other.
– Why do we have three matzot? We eat matzot, where the dough has not risen, because Am Israel left in the greatest hurry. Today the entire process of matza/kosher “poor man’s bread” is made, from the beginning to the end, within 18 minutes. The three matzot are placed on top of each other at the beginning of the Pesach meal; the bottom one representing Israel, then the Levites and Cohanim (Priests) on top. All three groups were redeemed from Egypt. The three matzot also correspond to wisdom, insight and knowledge.
– Why do we drink four cups of wine? Wine is first of all a symbol of freedom, so it is very appropriate to drink it on the festival of our physical departure from Egypt. We remember the four utterances that God told us through Moses:
1. I will take you out
2. I will save you
3. I will redeem you
4. I will take you to be my Nation
We read and explain the story of Exodus all night long. Reciting the Haggadah is called Maggid. We recite it laudly and clearly and with joy. In the spiritual world, the Divine Presence also rejoices on Pesach. Our tradition is to take turns in reading, so everybody participates.
The Exodus event was witnessed by our entire people. Not only was everything recorded in the Torah, but also transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to the other. When we acknowledge the Exodus from Egypt, we admit the truth of God and His Torah.
We are celebrating the festival of freedom as a community, not so much as individuals. Even the children, by letting them ask questions, it gives them a strong Jewish identity and the sense of shared values and a shared story. Judaism is rooted in the past, but always looking forward to the future.
Like the bronze coins that were revealed this week by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University. They were discovered South of the Temple Mount in an untouched 2000 year old cave. The cave was apparently used by the Hashmonean rebels 66-70 CE, just before the destruction of the Second Temple. On some coins is inscribed “To the freedom of Zion” and on others “To the redemption of Zion.” That is the spirit of the Jews, always looking forward to redemption.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote: At the Seder table on Pesach we celebrate history, but we begin and end by talking not about last year but about next year: “Next year we will be free,” “Next year in Jerusalem.” When God appears to Moses at the burning bush, first He calls Himself “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” the Jewish past. But when asked by Moses for His name, He replies, Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, “I will be what I will be,” I am God whose name is the future tense. To be a Jew is to keep faith with the past by building a Jewish future. That is the secret of our unbroken capacity through centuries of suffering to renew ourselves as a people. Judaism is a journey to the future. Those who tell the story of the past have already begun their children’s future. The golden age, the messianic age, is yet to come. As a result, Jews look forward more than they look back.