Dennis C. Sasso

What Will We Tell the Grandchildren: Passover 5784

(This essay is co-authored by Dennis C. Sasso and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso)

As our families and guests gather around the Seder table tonight, we are aware that this is not Passover as usual.  Some people are talking about observance, not celebration.  Given the state-of-affairs in the Jewish world and the world at large, we can sympathize, but do not agree.  More than ever, we need to affirm those values that make Pesach the quintessential Jewish holy day. It is with Pesach that our sense of collective history begins: “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months….” (Exodus 12:2).  The Book of Genesis is about pre-historic consciousness and narratives of individual ancestors.  In the Book of Exodus, the term “Am,” the concept of the peoplehood of Israel, is first introduced. The Seder reminds us that we are not isolated units, but part of a collective with a shared story.

It is not just an ancient story; it is relived in every generation.  The Haggadah reminds us: “Ve-hi she’amdah… That which sustained our ancestors, sustains us as well.  For not just one individual (Pharaoh) arose against us to destroy us, but in every generation, there are those who have arisen against us.”

The heinous terrorists attack of October 7th unleashed a virulent expression of that historic hatred.  From Gaza to Lebanon to Yemen, Iran and its proxies continue to implement their malevolent designs against Israel and the West.  Today, antisemitism and anti-Zionism raise their vulgar face among those who use the comforts of democracy and freedom to spew their venomous speech and engage in harassment and intimidation. Lamentably, they do so on behalf of a cause that they do not fully understand and in favor of oppressive and abusive groups within which they would not find acceptance or affirmation. Purportedly, in the service of peace, they have turned campuses from serving as centers of learning and coexistence, into battlegrounds of intimidation and hatred.

What will we tell the grandchildren at the Seder tonight?  We will remind them not only to learn their story, but to live in it. We will break the middle matza and dip greens in saltwater to recognize a broken world that still weeps.  We will diminish the sweet wine from our glasses to remind us that there is no complete joy when any innocents suffer.  We will share water from Miriam’s cup to sustain us through the hard, narrow spaces on our path to redemption. We will open the door beyond our home, hold hands with our ancestors and sing songs knowing that we are not alone and that we need one another on our journey.  We will not wait for Elijah, but fill his cup with wine from ours, knowing that salvation only comes through our efforts.

We will tell my grandchildren that it is good to be a Jew even now, especially now.  We will tell them that we, and the world, have been through difficult times before and that we do the Passover rituals not merely to dwell in what was or to bemoan what is, but to inspire us to strive for what ought to be, to transform the ancient hope into future promise.

The closing words of the Haggadah are future oriented: Bashanah Haba’ah…. There is always next year.  Don’t just let it happen.  Let’s make it happen for good. Next year, or sooner, may we know a Jerusalem redeemed, a world at peace, or, at least, on its way to peace.

Despite all the despites, Hag Sameach.

About the Author
Dennis Sasso is Senior Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, Indiana. He is Affiliate Professor of Jewish Studies at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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