May 20, 2024
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A mother finished reading her son his favorite bedtime story for the third time one night. After the final reading, the little boy climbed out of his bed, placed the open book on the floor and then gently stepped one foot after the other onto the pages. He looked down expectantly and then, after a moment, began to cry. The boy’s older sister walked by nonchalantly remarking, “He really likes that book,” and only then did the mother understand. Her son loved the story so much that he wanted to step into it; he wanted to be a part of the book.

Bechol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo ke’ilu hu yatza miMitzrayim.

Beyond just remembering our ancestors’ past, the Haggadah tells us, our obligation on Pesach is to conjure that little boy’s desire. Our task at the Seder is to make our story so compelling and so current, that the people sitting around the table don’t simply remember what once happened, they viscerally comprehend what always happens and choose to remain a part.

Of course, storytelling alone does not always conjure that reaction, which is why our stories are not merely told, they are ritualized. Adults do not tell children that their ancestors rushed to prepare matzah, they consume with those children the very food that was fashioned in haste. And children do not simply lament the bitterness their ancestors suffered, they taste bitterness on their tongues, and they force themselves to swallow. That experiential education, perfected in the Pesach Seder designed by our Sages, was not invented by them. Already in Shemot 13, Moshe’s command to eat unleavened bread annually for seven days is inextricably linked with the command, “Vehigadeta levincha bayom hahu leimor ba’avur zeh asah Hashem li betzaiti miMitzrayim.” The bodily enactment of our story, Moshe was teaching the people, binds in a way nothing else can, our past, present and future.

At points in Jewish history, the Egyptian experience of servitude and suffering under a foreign dictator was not far removed from reality. At those points, drinking the four cups of wine while leaning was critical because it reminded those drinking of the freedom that necessarily awaited them. At other points, particularly in the past half century, Jews worldwide were lucky enough to have to endeavor to conjure the bitterness of bondage. For them, eating maror and remembering subjugation was critical to enacting the holistic Jewish experience.

This Pesach, our bondage and our freedom are, paradoxically, more poignant than ever. On the one hand, like our ancestors after the exodus, we have finally returned to our land. We have an army to fight off enemies we could not have resisted in the past, and the freedom to worship God in the manner we choose. On the other hand, that freedom, particularly this year, has taken a painful, bloody toll and innocent members of our nation are still being held captive. Like the midrashic babies used as Egyptian bricks, we have babies that we have not yet been able to rescue. And like those who suffered under Pharaoh’s cruelty, our people remain underground in certain agony.

This Pesach, both the rituals engendering a sense of oppression and those engendering a sense of liberty will be performed with equal intensity. This Pesach we will remember not to take our freedom for granted because, as we have been so cruelly reminded, in every generation they seek to destroy us. But we will also proclaim that salvation can come at any moment, and it is that salvation that we will remind ourselves, through ritual, to anticipate.


Mrs. Yael Leibowitz teaches at the Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Learning and the Pardes Institute. She is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

 

  • The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.
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