I was not raised in Judaism. I came to it in my early 30s. I was not accustomed to the traditions of Passover. I attended my first seder in 2012. Since then, I’ve participated in my share of them- at least one, usually more, each year. I have accumulated several observations and thoughts over the past 8 years of seders.
The Importance of Candles & Wine
All Jewish celebrations include wine as a symbol of our joy. The Passover seder offers us four opportunities to fill our cup and drink. We begin with sanctification of wine.
Like the lighting of candles, the sanctification of wine marks a sacred moment in time, and time is a central component to the Passover theme of freedom. When in bondage, a slave has no time of her own. She does not control her day or when she accomplishes things. A slave is bound to the time of her master.
In preparation for liberation, the Israelites were given a new calendar. Why? As a newly freed people the Divine no longer wanted them to mark time as the Egyptians did. We were given a new calendar with this month marking the beginning of the year. Once freed, time would be ours. We would no longer serve a master who would have command of our time. When we have control of our time we have control of our destiny.
When thinking of the Exodus, it is natural to think of Moses. We are all familiar with the story of Moses standing before Pharoah saying, “Let my people go!” But the Haggadah barely mentions Moses. Why? By doing so we focus on the human aspects of our liberation and forget the Divine element. Today it’s all too easy to forget the aspect that the Divine plays in our lives. We all come to Judaism with a variety of beliefs. No matter what our specific beliefs are regarding G-d, we all hold the common belief that we are created in the image of the Divine- no matter what that means. If we are created in the image of the Divine then we have a spark of the Divine within us. By remembering our liberation through the lens of the Divine we are able to better see that no matter what bondage we experience, we have a supernatural spark within us that will help us integrate our total selves.
The Four Questions
The Passover story takes the form of questions and answers instead of a straightforward story. By asking questions we are able to involve everyone in the telling. We are also able to make sure that everyone understands.
Traditionally the youngest person present asks the four questions. Alternatively, the guest with the least Passover knowledge can ask. Or, everyone can take turns asking questions!
Why is this night different from all other nights?
- On all other nights we eat both bread and matzah. Why do we only eat matzah on this night?
- On all other nights we eat all vegetables. Why do we only eat bitter herbs on this night?
- On all other nights we don’t dip our vegetables. Why do we dip twice on this night?
- On all other nights we sit up or recline. Why do we only recline on this night?
The Four Aspects of Self
In telling the story and answering the questions, we remember that there are four aspects of ourselves. Each one has a different ability to grasp the meaning of the story. It is our job to ensure that we help each other to fully comprehend the story of bondage and liberation.
The first aspect of self is wise. This aspect seeks to understand the laws and rules for observing the Passover holiday.
The second aspect of self is wicked. This aspect seeks to understand what Passover means to the other. This aspect of self does not see herself as part of the community and has thus missed the whole moral of the remembering.
The third aspect of self is simple. This aspect of self seeks to understand the very basic meaning of Passover.
The fourth aspect of self doesn’t know how to ask. This aspect of self is content to observe the Seder without interaction or understanding.