Susan Elkodsi — Long Island Herald
The short history of every Jewish holiday is, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” Passover is no exception, although the eating part is much more ritualized. For about two months before Passover, you can’t walk into most supermarkets in our area without seeing boxes and boxes of matzah, products made from matzah, products designed to imitate things we eat every day, such as hot and cold breakfast cereals, pancakes and more. Matzah, of course, is the most famous of our symbolic foods.
Passover celebrates the redemption of the Israelites, who had been slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and their journey to freedom in a new land. As the story goes, the Israelites were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, so it baked into crispy crackers. Another reason we are commanded to eat matzah at Passover is because it’s called lekhem oni, “the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.”
Our Passover seder (festival meal) — with matzah and a variety of other symbolic foods — tells the story of our redemption, but it comes with a mandate: “In every generation, one must see himself as though he, too, had been a slave to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Jewish tradition teaches that we are not truly free until all who are enslaved are free. We are required to take care of others in our community by feeding the hungry, working for fair housing and employment practices, and welcoming the stranger into our midst.
This reminds us that with freedom comes responsibility, and while the Israelites didn’t know at the outset that they would spend 40 years “wandering” in the desert or wilderness, they did need a significant amount of time to learn how to work together as a community, to set up a working social structure, to receive God’s laws, and to learn how to worship the transcendent God who brought them out of Egypt. They needed to learn how to care for themselves and for each other, and to think for themselves, something we don’t need to worry about if our time isn’t our own.
Earth Day and the first seder both fall on April 22 this year, underscoring both our Jewish and secular commitment to caring for our planet and for each other. The Passover story has been told for thousands of generations; it’s up to us to ensure that it continue to be told for thousands more to come, and that means working to make our world a better place. We can’t do it all, but we still have a responsibility to do our part. Passover is a perfect time to discuss this with friends and family.
May you have a zissen pesach (a sweet Passover) surrounded by loved ones.
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi
Malverne Jewish Center