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Mahashavoth - April 2017
As you read these words, we are in the cycle of Torah readings from Sepher Shemoth, the Book of Exodus. The two One of the Jewish community’s greatest concerns is continuity. We want our children and grandchildren to have strong Jewish identities and connections. We invest in Jewish education, in summer camps, youth groups, and Israel trips, in order to provide our children with knowledge of their heritage and meaningful Jewish experiences. We hope they will choose Jewish partners and raise families involved in Jewish life.
Perhaps no holiday emphasizes Jewish continuity more than Pesah. Already in the Torah’s description of the first Passover in Egypt the holiday is ordained as an annual celebration to teach children their history and relationship with God. Even today, Pesah remains one of the great sources for Jewish continuity, for passing on Jewish identity and Jewish values. As Jewish demographers examine different points of Jewish involvement, they frequently note that the Pesah seder remains one of the most widely observed Jewish rituals. But why should this be so? What is it about the Pesah seder that makes it so effective a tool for continuity? I offer the words of Rabbi David Hartman z”ln as one particularly powerful explanation: “The parent is a story-teller who narrates a world the children never knew. Parents transmit a knowledge of reality outside the child’s experience. The father and mother must provide frames of reference rooted in the memories and the history of the covenantal community of Israel…..
In recalling Egypt, the Jews are exhorted to remember that they were once slaves. Rather than deny it, they are to incorporate that slavery into their consciousness. Thus, ‘love the stranger because you too were outcasts in Egypt.’ Have regard for the poor because you too were once servants; care for the oppressed because you too were persecuted. Be cautious with power because you have suffered the perversions of another’s might.
The role of parents is to develop in the identity of the child a sense of history, a temporal consciousness, an empathy for a whole world of experience that was not theirs. Whether these memories are relevant and meaningful, and how the child will live by them, are different issues. The mother’s and father’s task is not to decide how the children will use their memories. Their obligation is to see to it that the child does not enter into the future without a past.”
If Jewish values, ideas, and practices are important, if Jewish continuity is indeed an important concern, then we must work for it not just through our institutions and organizations, but within our own homes. We must recognize that it is the family that will be the most important structure for developing Jewish identity and inspiring commitment. The ritual of the Pesah sederis but one of many tools to convey the depth and beauty of our heritage. May we prepare sedarim that ask challenging questions about Jewish involvement and present discussions that inspire our Jewish identity and commitment. And may our efforts continue throughout the year.
Alison, Noa, Aliza and I wish you all a Hag Kasher v’Sameyah.
Rabbi Charlie Popky