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Pesach (Passover) (Exodus 12:21-51)

“So the people took their dough before it was leavened,
their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders.” (Exodus 12:34)

Because the first day of Pesach falls on Shabbat, the regular cycle of parashot (Torah portions) is interrupted by a special holiday reading. It includes God’s instructions to the Israelites to paint their doorposts (and lintels) with blood, the death of the Egyptian first-born, Pharaoh’s surrender, and the Israelites’ escape to freedom. In other words, the Exodus.

Moses tells the Israelites, “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this ritual?’ you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses…’” (Ex. 12:26-27) This is the first of four explanations of the Exodus in response to a child’s question (Ex. 13:8; Ex. 13:14; and Deut. 6:20-23 are the others). These are the prooftexts for the four sons in the Haggadah. They isolate and highlight the essence of the seder: telling the story. All the symbols and rituals are adornments to that essence.

The Torah commands us, repeatedly, to remember the Exodus. That memory is the trigger to empathy: we know how slavery feels, and we don’t want anyone to feel that way, so we won’t enslave others and we will work to free the enslaved. And that empathy is the trigger to imagination: we know how slavery feels, so we will imagine and work toward a world without slavery. Memory, empathy, and imagination are the heart of the seder.

The Pesach seder is a complex ritual, intimidating to many. But the seder’s brilliance (and point of equal access) is its focus on the most human of activities: storytelling.

Gut Shabbos-Gut Yontif/Shabbat Shalom-Chag Sameach

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