If you're wondering why Jews all over the world began eating matzo on Monday night, April 14th, at a big family dinner, I will tell you why.
Everyone thinks that all this holiday is about is eating matzo having this big dinner with a lot of ritual taking place not realizing how much more is involved.
First of all, you must remember that this is the holiday of freedom. Having been slaves in Egypt for many years, this Passover holiday liberates them. That is the most important theme that is emphasized from the very beginning.
Very few people know that the Jewish lunar calendar is lunar, which differs from our calendar because the Jewish one is based on the moon. Passover is the beginning of the New Year. Oddly, we celebrate Rosh Hashanah sometime in the fall and call it "new year." You would think that should be the time for the beginning of the calendar year.
The role of the Passover Seder, as it is called, has changed dramatically since I was a boy. Seder means order. The dinner was to be ritualized in an orderly fashion. It was to be a dinner to bring the family together. It still functions that way. However, modern times have changed some of the rituals for the reform and conservative movements. For the orthodox, the ritual part remains the same.
Remember, I said the theme of this holiday is liberation, freedom. These are not just words. This was an actual occurrence. In order for the participants to better understand its importance, we read the story in a book called the Hagaddah. This is the complete history of that event. It is a compilation of the story, prayers of thankfulness, but most of all, to reenact the bitterness of being slaves and the suffering of the Jewish people before they left Egypt.
When you talk about bitterness, it is much easier to understand it if you try to relive the experience by telling the story and participating the ritual of eating horseradish with matzo.
Everyone who is at the table must eat some small piece of the bitter herbs. In most families, the youngest child at the table asks questions of the leader that refer to the story. It is sort of a remembrance factor to simplify the story so it is easy to relate to. Ordinarily, each participant reads a part of the story. It may differ in many homes, but the main theme will be related.
The more modern version will take on many forms. It is no longer one fast rule. It is changed with each generation. I doubt if every dinner will serve matzo ball soup, but it is a traditional dish. With so many vegans and vegetarians, who knows where this dinner will take you; probably tofu, Tempe, and other substitutions.
The important thing is for the family to come together, year after year, to remember the story and to become a living part of history. This is a holiday of joy. Freedom sings out. The melodies of the story are all joyous. Prayers of thanksgiving follow. For some orthodox participants, there could be singing and eating past midnight. It is truly the happiest occasion of Jewish history. Never mind Purim. Passover surpasses that liberation story of Queen Esther by far.
One of the most interesting changes in the character of this holiday is that it has become number one in bringing the family together. For years, Rosh Hashanah was when students in college would come home. However, Passover has changed the pattern entirely. It is astonishing how that happened. There are so many different ways that today's modern Jew interprets this holiday. It is too hard to imagine because of all the innovation.
In spite of all these changes, Passover still has been able to remind us that we are a people. We are never to forget that our culture, traditions, and our bible has brought much to the world. By our participation in any form, it becomes a creative way to continue to bring our message to the world.
The tradition remains one of the major prayers which says, "Let anyone who is hungry come to our Seder" It is customary to invite friends, single families, and anyone you think would enjoy all the food.
The singing, the sharing of the food, drinking the four glasses of wine, and the joy of this holiday sets the tone for the next generation to take over the banner, which has been carried on for a thousand years or more.
Passover truly is the beginning of the story of the Jewish people. It still lives today.
Top of Page
Cleveland Seniors columns