Spring is in the air, and the celebration of Passover (Pesach), which begins the evening of April 19, celebrates the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The name Passover is taken from the Exodus story: During the tenth
and ultimate plague inflicted on Pharaoh to break his will, God passed over the Israelites and struck down only the Egyptian firstborn. That night, Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go; and ever since then, we gather together on that night at our Seder meal to commemorate that time, and to contemplate the meaning of freedom.
The central meaning of Passover is liberation, and hence, it is also called “zeman heiruteinu” — the season of our liberation. We understand liberation, politically — the move from slavery to freedom, as well as through spiritual transformation — the transition from the idolatry of our ancestors to the religious liberation eventually experienced through the Exodus and the giving of Law at Sinai. At the root of both these liberation experiences is God.
In Judaism’s view, slavery draws legitimacy from idolatry; democracy is ultimately grounded in the God-given dignity of every human being.
Totalitarianism, the total worship of any human creation, is the idolatry of our time. The God who created and loves us gives us freedom as our right, and denies absolute authority to all human governments and systems.
Another name for Passover is “hag ha-aviv” — the holiday of spring. Following the bleakness of winter, spring marks the rebirth of the earth with the bursting forth of green life. Pesach is a celebration of rebirth and hope that annually reminds us that no matter how terrible our situation, we must not lose hope.
One of our favorite songs during Passover is a litany called “Dayenu,” meaning “It Would Have Been Enough.” This rousing liturgical piece is a list of the miracles that God performed from the Egyptian Exodus through the restoration of the Israelites in their homeland.
On one level, Dayenu reminds us of the cumulative manifested pow- er of God during this experience of liberation, but on another, it also reminds us that there were stages in this historical drama. Taken further, Dayenu reminds us that even in our own lives, we need to take one day at a time. All change takes time, and occurs incrementally, a little bit each day. Whether its rehabilitation from illness, recovery from addiction or reaching any of our personal goals, after each step we say, Dayenu — this was a good day and I’ll take it.
But we never forget our final vision. We can’t be trapped being self- congratulatory, and we cannot make our steps, our transitory stages, our final stop. We must always remind ourselves that for all our successes, we haven’t completely realized our dreams. And that’s why the last words of our seder are always “L’Shana Ha- ba’ah B’Yerushalayim” — Next Year in Jerusalem. Tomorrow will be even greater.
Temple Beth Ami will be celebrat- ing a community Seder the second night of Passover, Saturday, April 20 at 6 pm. Led by Rabbi Mark Blazer and Cantorial Soloist Alyssa Rosenbaum. Call (661) 255-6410 for information and reservations or on- line at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ temple-beth-ami-community-sed- er-2019-tickets-56605216727.