The many meanings of Passover
March 20, 2013
A glorious aspect of Passover, which no doubt contributes to its wide observance among Jews of all stripes, is the flexibility of its message. According to tradition, Passover reminds Jews of the liberation of their ancestors from Egyptian bondage. But beyond this story of national liberation, there is also a personal interpretation: that we strive to free ourselves from our personal “narrow places.” These are the individual obstacles and psychological burdens that confine us.
Between the historical and the personal, Passover allows for a range of interpretations. And because the seder is intended to be a free-wheeling night of story-telling and meaning-making, every Jewish table becomes its own bima. That’s why there are so many versions of the Haggada, and why so many Jewish organizations create special inserts, prayers, and readings to augment the Haggada. This year’s crop of supplementary material includes:
• A guide from HIAS intended to spark a discussion of the more than 43 million refugees and other displaced people in the world.
• A prayer by Rabbi Joshua Hess (see page 21) reinforcing the responsibility Jews have for one another.
• An essay, written by Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and distributed by the American Jewish World Service, connecting the holiday’s themes to the rights of women and girls around the world.
• A suggestion, from the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, that Jews expand on the dietary changes of Passover to switch to an all-plant-based diet.
Not all of these messages will resonate with everybody, and some will speak to only a few. And many people prefer that the Haggada stand on its own, a timeless document not subject to current political winds.
But Pesach invites all of us to bring something to the table — our selves, our thoughts, our traditions, our concerns. At the seder table, there are no obstacles to speaking up in the name of liberation, personal or historical.
From all of us here at NJJN, we wish you a Happy Passover.