Pesach (Passover) is a holiday about freedom, because it celebrates the Israelite liberation from slavery in Egypt. We celebrate the holiday at home with a big festive meal, the Seder (Order), that has a particular order of 15 steps. According to our sages these are the rituals that will lead us to understand what freedom is. By using a Haggadah, a booklet of instructions, prayers, blessings, and stories that lays out the proper order for the ritual, we enact one of the most important aspects of the Seder, the recitation of the Exodus story. The Haggadah instructs that “In every generation, every person is obligated to see himself / herself as if s/he, personally, left Egypt.” As we reflect on our lives and the world we now live in, we grapple with some of the essential questions of the future of civilization.
I would like to share with you some of our contemporary rabbis’ thoughts on the importance of reflection on these questions.
Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, says: “It’s a global disgrace that today, there may be as many as 46 million people living in modern slavery. Freedom is not just a concept. Pesach is not just a metaphorical moment. With the number of modern slaves increasing year on year — for example, through the recruitment of child soldiers, sex trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude — a lack of freedom is a stain of shame on our modern world.”
Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism, says: “We have carried this vision through every country of our dispersion and our return home to our land – Israel. Our repeated history of marginalization, persecution and exile has merely sharpened the awareness that we, and everyone, are safe only in a world of justice, truth and freedom…Tyranny is growing across the globe. Nothing is more urgent than the ancient Jewish task of pursuing justice, truth, freedom and the dignity of all.”
Joseph Dweck, Senior Rabbi of the S&P Sephardi Community, says: “Dayenu is part of the Seder because our freedom is fundamentally based upon the idea that the world is meaningful, and thus, so are our choices. We yearn to be free in order to choose and achieve meaningful lives. When we are fortunate enough to experience a ‘Dayenu moment’, we are reminded, deep in our hearts, that our lives matter, our choices matter, and that even if it is but once in a lifetime, seeing it is knowing that it is indeed enough.”
What do we teach at SJCS about Freedom? Every year we teach our students the story of Pesach, reflecting on the value of freedom and its contemporary meaning. All of Pesach tradition and ritual is set on the foundation of teaching the children to ask questions. By continuing to ask questions and retell the Passover story, we do not accept the oppression, the suffering, and the injustice, of this world as God’s will. We recognize that it’s human creation and our role is to stop it.
According to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs: “The message of Passover remains as powerful as ever. Freedom is won not on the battlefield but in the classroom and the home. Teach your children the history of freedom if you want them never to lose it.”
SJCS faculty, staff and board members wishes you and your family a joyful and meaningful Pesach.
Shoshi K Bilavsky, Head of School