We all have stories to tell. Some are more important than others. Some of the stories that we tell our children reflect our loftiest understandings of our mission on this Earth. Like fairy tales, these stories encounter fear and point the way to “happily ever after” way beyond the time we know that life is never so “happily ever after.” Passover celebrates the importance of story telling.
The Passover story is the holiest story we Jews have to tell. It is not just any story, it isour story – the story that “birthed” our people from slavery to freedom. The tale of Passover aligns with the initial vision of Abraham that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years. We remember (and celebratee) the physical and spiritual hardships of slavery, where we were strangers in a strange land at the foundation for fostering radical empathy. Remembering that “we were slaves in Egypt” leads to an understanding of true justice and into a relationship with all that is holy in this world. It anticipates movement and change at the underpinnings of creating a moral compass for living. It makes our treatment of strangers the test for a just society (because WE were strangers). Our modern day world demands, "Give me the essentials." Passover is our most important story, not only to tell, but to live.
Why? Because in remembering the journey from slavery to freedom, we are addressing the fundamental spiritual aspect of this world: the challenge and opportunity of change.
True justice is not only defined at Sinai, It is re-lived in every generation. It is shaped in our own time and image, defined in our own terms, facing our own journey, for we are told: "We should tell the story, as if we ourselves were slaves leaving Egypt.”
It follows the adage: “I’d rather see a lesson, than hear one any day. I rather you would walk with me than merely show the way.”
“As if we were slaves”? Is it make believe? Is it theater? Then it has to be the best theater: that which suspends disbelief and tells the story in a manner that renders total belief that this journey to freedom and to empathy is our holiest journey. Ultimately, this holy journey leads to a better world, a holier world, a world without oppression, a world in which the stranger is ALWAYS welcome, the hungry are ALWAYS fed, and homes celebrate the miracles that allow generations born to slavery to be free.
Each of us has stories to tell. Take some time at the Passover seder to tell yours. What was your family's experience? Were you shaped by the Holocaust? Were you made to feel afraid of celebrating being Jewish in public? Were you shaped by the experience in America that cut so many souls off from Jewish resources through forces of adapting and fitting into America? How did your family make it to America? Were you raised by parents or grandparents who grew up in the Depression? Were they confronted with world war and the fight for freedom? Were you raised by parents who wrestled with the war in Vietnam? Was your family devastated by the recent recession? Has your family experienced losses of loved ones? Tell the story, modeled on this epiphany: that the Holy One heard our cryand cried out, "Let my people go." Live it!
Invite special guests: a homeless person (and let them share their story), a stranger, a family that is Christian or Muslim or an unknowledgable or disaffected Jew (and share your pride of your tradition), a Jew who has no means to make a seder, a rebellious Jew (and talk about the meaning of our story to you).
At this year’s seder, hold up the matzah and cry out, "This is the bread of affliction!" Because that piece of matzah is the most powerful pedagogical device in the history of lesson planning (lesson-living) from one generation to the next. It is strange, alluring, demanding explanation, hidden, searched for, found: and through the search, the find, and the telling, matzah moves from being a symbol of oppression to being the bread that has sustained us as a people throughout the journey of four millennia.
Ultimately, living this story is to live to hear our children (and grandchildren) tell this story in their own terms. For that implies that this powerful story lives on.
Also make your own family stories live.
With photos, memorabilia, reenactments. Tell your kids how you “were enslaved and were set free from your own Egypt.
Use your ingenuity. This will be our twenty-fourth seder in Portland at Gesher. Each year, we tell this story with theater in view. We offer our guests slave outfits. We flee to an encampment, a tent, decorated as the inside of the Red Sea, where we partake in the experience of remembering and living this most essential story. We use green onions to whip slaves. We build a pyramid as we tell the story (out of painted cardboard boxes) and we break it down. It's chaotic fun. It's a feast, because we are living this wonderful memory. The Passover seder is a deep exploration of our deepest questions whose answers are quests really.
If you don’t yet have plans for Passover, come to Gesher. Together, we will live the story, and prepare you for doing this in your own home. Gesher will host five seders during the week of Passover. For more information: see ourjewishhome.org
Happy Passover! Celebrate the most important story there is to tell. This year: live it.
Rabbis Laurie Rutenberg and Gary Schoenberg