Wednesday at sundown Jews across America and the world will be celebrating the first night of Passover with the Passover Seder. The Seder is an evening of chanting, discussion, and study revolving around teaching the freedom that came with the exodus to our children. But can we teach about freedom when the government tells us that we have to stay in our houses and we can’t have the huge family gatherings we have every year? Passover freedom
I would submit that as frustrating these shelter-in-place orders are, they do more to fulfill the purpose of Passover than anything else.
The entire purpose of the Seder is to teach our children. As it says in Exodus, chapter 13:
And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, “Because of this, the Lord did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt…And it will come to pass if your son asks you in the future, saying, “What is this?” you shall say to him, “With a mighty hand did the Lord take us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage
The Seder is an evening that begins with the youngest at the table asks questions, and everything afterward answers those questions. In the Hagaddah which is the guidebook for the Seder, we learn that Rabbi Gamliel who was the head of the Sanhedrin after the destruction of the second temple teaches us, “In every generation, a person is obligated to see him or herself as if he or she went out of Egypt.”
Gamliel isn’t teaching us to believe that we were hanging out with Moses at Sinai (although that might have been very cool). Instead, we are to teach our children that slavery doesn’t necessarily mean being forced to build cities for Pharaoh. It means having our minds locked, not being able to think for ourselves and make our own choices or pick our own route toward self-actualization.
The nascent Jewish nation was not born via battles and war, but in slavery with help from G-d. And the first Passover Seder was celebrated in Egypt. The Israelite nation was commanded to act as free people while they were still slaves. They were told to paint the frames of their doors with lamb’s blood, afterward to stay inside for their own protection. While they feasted on a meal of roasted lamb. the angel of death was taking the lives of Egypt’s firstborn while passing over the homes with the painted doorframes.
The use of a lamb was an act of freedom and defiance toward their Egyptian overlords. The ram was the sacred animal of two major Egyptian gods, Amun and Khnum. With this first Passover Seder, the Israelite nation was not physically free. But they celebrated as a free people being able to make their own choices. They also celebrated the knowledge that it was G-d who took them out of the darkness of slavery into the light of being free.
Rabbi Gamliel’s instructions never had more meaning than this year’s Seders. This year, just like that first Seder in Egypt, Jews will have to stay inside their homes for their own protection while praying that the CoronaVirus passes over our homes. Just like that first Seder, we will get to celebrate our freedom, our freedom of making our own choices while teaching our children, “In every generation, a person is obligated to see him or herself as if he or she went out of Egypt.”
Our children may get have cabin fever and disappointment that grandparents and/or favorite cousins will not be able to be at their Seders in person. But they will participate in the Seder, including having discussions about what slavery and freedom mean today in their lives and those across the world who are in physical slavery. Through the Seders, they will learn that a month of cabin fever isn’t so bad compared to what others are going through, and learn that they must cast off the physical and emotional restrictions preventing them from being totally free. And perhaps understand that we need to fight for those in physical bondage across the world. And via songs like Dayenu, they will learn all that G-d has done for the Jewish people and learn that only through faith in G-d will we ever truly be able totally free and cast off the shackles of slavery to move into the light of freedom.