By Edith Morgan
Passover is here again! We have all the regular spring cleaning tasks, all the preparations for this very important holiday, with all its multiple meanings and rituals, its special foods, its symbols and its reminiscences.
We repeat the old story of the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and the ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians before the Pharaoh finally gave in and “let my people go” – a cry that has resonated throughout the centuries, and is still on the lips of so many who have not yet achieved freedom. That theme has been set to music, put into books, and expressed in various art forms, with its inspiring plea that all can understand.
Much of the Passover symbolism has found its way into the practices of other cultures and religions: the very thorough cleaning that many households do at this time of year, the celebration in many ways of throwing off the yoke of cold weather, bare ground and the isolation of being shut up inside for months – all those things we share with many people who live north of the equator.
But there are still some things that are unique to Passover, and the remembrance of the specifics of that time in Jewish history, and its parallels in modern time are still central to all the rituals performed in Jewish homes at this time.
As a child I remember the story of Moses and the ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians to convince them to let the enslaved Israelites go. I remember the story of how they wandered in the desert for so many years and finally reached the promised land. And of course, I remember the various symbols on the Seder plate: the lamb shank, the burnt egg, the parsley sprig, the horseradish, and, of course, the matzoh. My father was “reform,” which meant that he believed in a rational interpretation of most things. But those articles of faith that could not be easily explained he tried his best to make sense of. And of course there is always the belief that we still await the coming of the Messiah.
There are certain rituals that have a double function: the extra glass of wine in the table left there for the prophet Elijah, who is expected to come, and the open door to welcome him in – religious reasons, but also originating in the ghettos of Central Europe and designed to protect Jewish families from the fearful accusations that they used human blood to make the matzos.
The open door was the precursor of today’s “transparency” movement, in my opinion.
We are very fortunate in the U.S. that we do not have to take these kinds of measures to be safe in our homes; think, however, of the families in Israel, living near enemies who send 12-year-old girls with knives and explosives into their midst and who say they came to Jerusalem to “kill Jews.”
At least the Egyptians wanted free labor; today’s Israelites face an enemy who teaches its children hatred and murder, and glorifies such behavior. So, unfortunately, we have not improved our lot as much as I would like. And we still end our prayers with “Next year in Jerusalem” – in the fervent hope that finally that ancient city will be recognized as the capital of that nation, after 3,000 years of wishing and hoping and praying …