April 6, 2006 – "Passover eve. Our people have been preparing for this night for thousands of years. The full moon rises. Jews all over the world come together to celebrate freedom and community with words and symbols, ancient and new." This reflection is at the beginning of "The Open Door," the Haggadah we will be using to tell the story of the Passover at the community Seder of The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas.
No other Holy Day on the Jewish calendar has such a draw, such a pull, on members of the Jewish community. This is the time when the family, nuclear or extended, comes together in celebration of an ancient tradition. We will welcome all to share in the reliving of the Exodus, remembering that we were slaves in Egypt and God brought us out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. For seven days, as the Bible commands, we should have no leavened foods in our homes, and we are obliged to observe the special dietary restrictions commanded to us all week. Between the weeklong food restrictions and the special symbolic foods of the Passover Seder (the ordered ritual meal on the first night of Passover) we relive the experience of our being freed.
That's the command to us: to remember that we were slaves in Egypt – not just our ancestors. We need to relive that experience year after year, and we do it using all of our senses. We see the symbols as they form the centerpiece on our tables; we hear the words of the text come alive for us; we smell the foods especially prepared for this festival; we touch the pages of the Haggadah containing words recited generation after generation. But most of all, we taste -the bitterness of slavery, the salty tears we shed as slaves, the unleavened bread that was the hasty provision before the journey, the sweet wine that reminds us of the promises of redemption.
The symbols are old, the story is too, but the message is modern – as timely as today's newspaper. There are people who are still oppressed, and therefore, the message and lessons of Passover have not been achieved. There are not just slaves in third world countries.
Some of us are slaves – to fashion, to conformity, to many things that keep us from truly being free. We fall victim so easily to the pressures and temptations in our world, whether a young person, being offered drugs or any one of us who can't be really free in our own decisions and actions. The message of Passover is also for us, every one of us!
Editor's note: Rabbi Arthur F. Starr leads the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas.
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