Why IS This Night Different From All Other Nights?
I’ve yet to meet a Jew who isn’t a fan of a good ol’ fashioned Passover seder. Hot bowls of steaming matzah ball soup, heaps of savory brisket and gravy piled on your plate, wine aplenty, matzah galore (which never fails to have a special place in our hearts despite the fact it tastes akin to burnt cardboard), and too many squealing kids sprinting manically around the house in a frantic search for the afikomen ― what’s not to love?
But it’s easy to get swept up in the food and overlook what we’re actually celebrating. Only recently did I start thinking, “What’s the real deal with why we celebrate Passover? What tenets of living a Jewish life stand out in the story of us finding freedom from enslavement and journeying to a home in Israel? Why is this night really so different from all other nights?” After not paying much attention in Hebrew school back in the day, my curiosity finally decided to spark, and I wanted to look for answers on my own. I started scanning over my past 21 years of celebrating Passover in an attempt to get to the crux of what Passover represents to me as a Jew, and maybe even shed some light on what it means to all of us.
I thought back to the Passovers of my early years, when I was a yappy little kid who insisted on bringing at least one stuffed animal with me to the seder table. My sister, my brother and I would sing the four questions in our squeaky, high-pitched voices; Dad would tell us the story of Passover as we sat there staring at him in trances with wide, unblinking eyes; we’d act out the plagues with silly props as the adults egged us on; and while we ate, I’d talk way too much about Disney princesses.
But when we finally graduated from the “kids table” and moved up to the big leagues of the esteemed “grown-up table,” Passover took on a different feel.
Suddenly, I didn’t see Passover as the holiday where I got to speak incessantly of Disney princesses, practically inhale charoset (well, actually, I’ll probably always do that), and receive a ton of attention for being a cute kid; it became something more. As I would around the table at my family, I would become filled with a warmth from the wholesome, meaningful memories we were making together each year. Passover took on a sense of nostalgia.
And with each seder, as my siblings, cousins and I were growing older, the conversations around the table became less about Disney, my beloved stuffed animals, and my little brother’s obsession with Bob the Builder, and more about what we were planning to do with our lives. I started to feel the weight of time on my shoulders, and the moments unfolding in front of me became even more precious, as I realized that they would one day become cemented in the past, slowly turning into sepia-toned, old photographs.
But the tradition of celebrating Passover doesn’t just stir us to become aware of the passage of time and gradual changes in our own individual lives – its scope is bigger than that.
Passover lifts the roots of Jewish history and plants them on the seder table in front of us. As we experience the seder together, nourishing these roots, we unite in a shared history and bond as the stories unfold. By reliving the stories of the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt, Moses' rise as a leader, the ten plagues, and the exodus to Israel, we vicariously get to experience the pain, faith and gratitude that come with yearning for a home, trusting God, and attaining freedom.
The fact that we get to immerse ourselves in these stories together invites a strong connection between us, not even just as Jews, but as human beings. We get to take part in celebrating a story that represents overcoming adversity, when all odds were against us, and we rejoice in gratitude when we realize what our ancestors overcame in order for us to experience a sense of home. And at the end of the story, we as a people are transformed with a newfound strength and realization of freedom.
And although the story is 2,000 years old, Passover reminds us to this day to never stray too far from who we are.
With each word we read from the Haggadah, the past is slowly hoisted up to meet the present as the stories unravel before us. We listen and reflect unison over who we are as Jews and the tenacity and strength that come along with that identity.
And most of all, we’re reminded that pain and struggle do not have to equal disheartenment and failure – they can breathe out the makings of an unshakeable, brave, beautiful life. The shackles of living with limitations can be broken with faith, hope, and taking action.
Each of our lives is a story, and each of our stories are chapters in the grand history of the Jewish people. With your miraculous life, how will your legacy contribute?