“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”
— Peter Marshall
As American Jews, when we sit down to our Passover seders this coming week, we should keep this fact in mind: We are, hands down, the freest Jews to have ever celebrated a Passover seder. We are free to worship, move around, seek employment, seek public office, marry the people we love, receive the education we want and need, and participate in all aspects of civil society. What does it mean to sit down at our seder and retell the story of our people and feel that we too are slaves and we too have been redeemed, when our reality includes such unprecedented freedoms? How should this reality color our celebration?
Passover has several key purposes and deep moral messages. First and foremost, Passover functions to pass the story of our redemption to the next generation. The entire seder is constructed as an educational tool that speaks to the younger generations. The message of what it means to be a slave, the importance of freedom, and the miracle of our redemption must be passed on to youth in a way they can hear and understand.
In the past, tools like dividing the seder with four cups of wine or telling the story of the four sons or hiding the afikomen might have spoken in a very relevant manner to the hearts and minds of our children. This is no longer true. I am not recommending doing away with those traditions, but rather to add to them as free people who have access to libraries and the Internet and so many forms of technology.
It is our right and duty to make our seders engaging — there is no excuse for a boring seder. There is no reason to leave the kids at home or leave the seder early because it is “too much” for the youngest at the table. The message of the Passover story is too important to continue to do things exactly as they were passed down to you. It might be what you like as an adult, but if it is not speaking to the children — if they are not able to truly hear the story and the values passed down during this sacred rite — then you are failing.
I know this may be a harsh statement, but it’s important to say: A boring seder is a shanda. You are free to make different choices; it is therefore an obligation to embrace this freedom and to use all of your capabilities and resources to pass the story along in a meaningful and relevant manner.
This is all the more important, because Passover has a very important moral message about how we as Jews should live in this world. Being a free people means we have an extra obligation. Telling the story each year and going through the rituals of Passover has to mean more than just remembering. We were liberated from Egypt. We were liberated from Dachau. We have been enslaved and oppressed and then managed to see our way through to liberation so many times in our history.
This is not just a precious remembrance. This history is also a mandate. But to do what exactly? To make choices in our lives and encourage our greater community and society to make choices that are just, life-sustaining and kind. We were brought forth from Egypt so we might have the opportunity to live a life of Torah, to live our highest values as Jewish people.
As a Reform Jew, I acknowledge that living a “life of Torah” might look different to each individual. But at the same time, there is no denying that our tradition demands we create a just society and a society that cares for those in need. It also demands that we pass these traditions and values to the next generation. When we read “let all who are hungry come and eat” at our seder table, it really needs to mean something. When the children at that table hear you read those words, they need to know you mean it.
Passover is an opportunity to show yourself, your family, and our community what it means to live a Jewish life in 2013 and that you fully embrace all the blessings and opportunities you have as one of the freest Jews of all time. Will you sit down at your computer tonight and research ways to make your seder speak in a more authentic and creative way to the next generation? The resources are out there. Will you take time to consider how you can make the words “let all who are hungry come and eat” a reality in your community? I know that Passover embodies many more deep moral messages than I have the space to address. Will you bring the topic of the practical and moral messages of Passover as a conversation piece to your seder?