Passover, Heritage, and Destiny

April 22nd: Passover
Rabbi David E. Ostrich

My message this week is simple and, hopefully, fairly familiar. The Passover Seder is a combination of mitzvot derived from dozens of passages in the Torah and all designed to do one thing. As Rabban Gamliel taught, “In every generation, each person should feel that he/she personally went out of Egypt, as it is commanded in Exodus 13, ‘You shall tell your child on that day, “I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.”’” (Pesachim 10.5)

When we get to that state of mind, we undergo a kind of moral transformation: we feel the heart of the stranger (because we were strangers in the Land of Egypt), and we know that godliness requires three responses: (1) We should appreciate the blessings of freedom and acceptance that we have. (2) We should be sure never to oppress or alienate another human being. (3) We should do our best to help the oppressed escape the narrowness of their predicaments—and extend the blessings of freedom and acceptance to all.

Notice, of course, that Rabban Gamliel’s lesson is based on the proof text from Exodus 13—which is one of the four which tells us to tell the story of the Exodus to our children. (Remember: four instructions means four types of children….)

Everything else in Pesach—from eating of Matzah and Maror to the not-eating of Chametz—are designed to help us tell the story and to listen to the story ourselves. In this narrative, with all of its interpretations and angles, is the essence of our ancestral endeavor.

As we read in the Shema (Numbers 15.41): “I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of the Land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord, your God,” and, as God explains in Exodus 19: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Passover is our origin, our mission, and our communal raison d'être.

Happy Passover!